Sudanese Bishops Alert International Community of Ethnic Cleansing in Darfur

EL-GENEINA, Sudan, AUG. 30, 2004 ( Concerned about the tragic situation in Darfur characterized by “terror, rape, torture, murder and slavery,” the bishops of Sudan issued a statement appealing for help from the international community.

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As «shepherds and pastors, we cannot ignore the annihilation of an entire ethnic group whatever their creed, gender, or clan,» the statement said.

To the people of western Sudan, Darfur, the region to the east, has always been considered a source of «cheap labor and army recruits utilized particularly to stem the civil war in the South,» the prelates explained.

According to the episcopal statement, the government of Sudan has not admitted that there has been a civil rebellion in Darfur for the last 10 to 15. They insist that the upheavals in Darfur are caused by «armed robbery and highway banditry.»

“Over the past year and a half 35,000 people have lost their lives and there are already two million people internally displaced, while 200,000 have fled to neighboring Chad,» the bishops said.

It is a consequence of the violence initiated in February, 2003. At that time, two rebel groups which came into being as forces of popular self-defense. The Movement for Justice and Equality (MJE) and the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) rose in arms against the Khartoum government.

The latter is accused of abandoning Darfur because its population is primarily black and of funding the Janjaweed militias, Arab highway bandits active in western Sudan, who for years have sown death and destruction among non-Arab peoples.

The Sudanese bishops’ appeal to the United Nations and the international community to exert pressure on the government of the African country not only to halt arming the Janjaweed militias, but to disarm them immediately and bring the perpetrators to justice.

«If the government of Khartoum is reluctant to assume this responsibility, then we appeal to the international community to intervene immediately. The time factor is crucial in order to save innocent and precious lives,» the Bishops continued.

«The Janjaweed could not have purchased sophisticated weapons, and ammunition. In the first place they do not have the funds…and…secondly, they do not have the bomber planes to hurl bombs on the innocent civilians,» they stated.

Addressing the Sudanese government, the Catholic bishops exhorted that it open the doors to humanitarian agencies, so that they can take food and medicines to the people and protect the displaced.

Likewise, they appealed to the Sudanese government «to take positive steps as a government, whose prime interest is the protection of lives and the respect of the dignity of its citizens, to sit and negotiate a just and peaceful settlement to the conflict.»

Warning that «war is not the best way of addressing grievances,» the prelates appealed to both sides in the conflict to sit at the negotiating table «to seek a just and peaceful solution to the situation.»

Both the MJE and the SLM, as well as the Sudanese government are called by the Bishops to «accept the invitation of the intermediaries to seek a peaceful settlement.»

«We also plead with the international community to avoid further discussion and compromise. We ask all concerned authorities to stop politicking. What is at stake are the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people…There is no room for further statements, discussions, or deliberation. This is a time for action to save innocent people,» they exhorted.

Appealing to the United Nations «to assume their responsibilities,» the Catholic prelates of Sudan said that the «holocaust of the African ethnicity in Darfur is ethnic cleansing.»

The United Nations’ «ultimatum» to the Sudanese government, to stop supporting the Janjaweed militias, expires on Monday. If Khartoum does not respect it, it is facing economic sanctions.

Meanwhile, peace talks continue in Abuja, Nigeria, between the government of Sudan and the two guerrilla movements in Darfur.

The St. Egidio Community, which has sent a delegation to the talks, is attending as an observer.

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