Darfur Conflict Could Worsen, Warns Vatican Official

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi Fears a Genocide

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LORETO, Italy, JULY 27, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan might end in genocide, warns the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations in Geneva.

“Darfur is not the only — nor, unfortunately, will it be the last — African crisis,” Archbishop Silvano Tomasi said on Monday to the Missionary Service News Agency, in the framework of the 7th International Meeting on Migrations, being held in Loreto.

“From all that one gathers from the United Nations data and the reports of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the conflict in Darfur was started by the determination of groups of Arab militias to control the territory and seize the resources of the local black population, namely, the Nilotic,” the archbishop clarified.

The archbishop explained that the parties in conflict are Muslim, although the local peoples of Darfur follow an Islam that is strongly influenced by African animist traditions.

“Therefore, the problem can be described in terms of racism and power to control the resources,” he said. “It does not have a religious component as did the war that lasted over 20 years between the Christian and animist south and the Islamic north.”

Since February 2003, two rebel groups which began as popular self-defense forces have taken up arms against the Khartoum government.

They accuse the government of abandoning Darfur because its population is primarily black, and of funding the “Janjaweed” militias, lawless Arabs, that have wreaked havoc.

The conflicts have left up to 30,000 people dead, displaced close to 1 million, and produced 160,000 refugees on the border with Chad.

“The danger is that the conflict, already grave, will end in genocide,” warned Archbishop Tomasi, sharing the concern, expressed on other occasions, by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Moreover, the “U.S. Congress approved by unanimity a resolution on Darfur in which it used the word ‘genocide,’ that is, the destruction of one ethnic group by another with the complicity of the central government or its inability to control” the situation, the archbishop told the Vatican agency Fides.

“The situation is extremely difficult,” he continued. “Kofi Annan is trying to get the international community to intervene in some way. But the African Union, which has sent observers to Darfur and is trying to make the parties in conflict enter into dialogue, has a certain reluctance, especially true of Muslim countries, to act in a direct way in the internal affairs of a nation that forms part of its group. This paralyzes the international mechanisms of intervention.”

“The international community must continue to focus its attention on Darfur, otherwise it will become one of the many forgotten and unresolved African wars,” Archbishop Tomasi said.

Last Thursday, concerned about the humanitarian disaster taking place in Darfur, and wishing to express his spiritual and material closeness and solidarity, John Paul II sent his special envoy, Archbishop Paul Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum,” to the area.

The dicastery, in charge of promoting and organizing the Catholic Church’s charitable aid, has already sent financial help to Darfur on behalf of the Pope, through the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

When sending the envoy, the Holy Father appealed to the international community and to the Sudanese government to intensify efforts to arrive at a just solution to the Darfur conflict, and thus avoid a humanitarian disaster. At the same time, he called for the mobilization of the Church and the world to relieve the plight of the peoples of the area.

Last Sunday, the Pontiff renewed his appeal for an end to the conflicts that are bleeding Africa.

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