Forced Islamization Under Way in Western Sudan

Bishop Gassis Analyzes Ongoing Conflict in Darfur Region

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ROME, MAY 10, 2004 ( Violence has produced thousands of victims in the war-torn Darfur region of western Sudan, where «a process of Arabization» is under way, says a Catholic bishop.

In a U.N. report, Bishop Macram Max Gassis of El Obeid gave evidence of the subjection of Darfur to a regime of terror by the Khartoum government.

The strife is reckoned to have claimed 10,000 victims, forced 800,000 to 1 million from their homes, and left a legacy of 130,000 refugees in neighboring Chad.

Since February 2003, Darfur has been the scene of violent confrontations between two rebel groups — the Justice and Equality Movement, and the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement — and the Sudanese regular army.

The rebel groups rose in arms against Khartoum, which they accused of abandoning Darfur because its population is mainly black, and of financing the «janjaweed» militias.

The militias are active Arab marauders in the western region of Sudan who for years have been sowing death and destruction, especially in the communities of Arana, Marsalit and Fura.

The rebel groups are demanding from the government greater participation in the exploitation of oil resources, a request that coincides with that of pro-independence rebels in the South.

The strife isn’t over religion, but is rather «an ethnic question,» Bishop Gassis told Vatican Radio on Saturday.

«The Darfur part is annihilated by the Arab part, the ‘janjaweed,’ who are armed by the Khartoum army to go and commit these violations against the black population of Darfur,» he said.

«These people have asked that their rights be recognized, as others have also done in Sudan,» the prelate noted.

He warned that the country «is becoming a volcano that is erupting everywhere. The people want respect for human rights, the right to education, to health care, to freedom. … These people have never been considered by the Khartoum government.»

The attack of the Arab militias against the ethnic group of Darfur is directed to «taking its place, as they have done in other places. They want to move the Arab race to the more fertile areas, to areas where they can pasture,» the bishop explained.

In fact, «a process of Arabization is under way in Darfur,» Bishop Gassis lamented. «In the South of Sudan and in the Nuba hills there is a forced process of Islamization and Arabization. They want to force the people to accept that type of Islam that they are propagating in Sudan: Muslim fundamentalism.»

«And although there are many Muslims in Darfur, they are certainly not fundamentalists,» he continued. «They want to attack the black race. There is an ethnic question here. In the South of Sudan and in the Nuba hills, instead, the problem is ethnic and religious. Moreover, there is also the economic aspect, that is, the desire to occupy the place of this non-Arab population.»

Meanwhile, the Khartoum authorities and the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) are in the final phase of talks aimed at ending 20 years of civil war — between the Muslim regime of the north and the animist and Christian rebels of the south — which has resulted in more than 2 million dead.

This armed conflict broke out in 1983, when President Gaafar Nimeiry established the Shariah, Islamic law. In 1989 the process of forced Islamization was promoted among the populations of the south.

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