"World Cannot Remain Indifferent" to Sudan Crisis, Says Bishop

Comments on U.N. Security Council Session in Nairobi

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RUMBEK, Sudan, NOV. 19, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The «rest of the world cannot remain indifferent» to the situation in Sudan, said Bishop Cesare Mazzolari of the southern Diocese of Rumbek.

The bishop spoke out on the occasion of a two-day extraordinary session of the U.N. Security Council in Nairobi, Kenya, on the emergencies in Sudan: the south and Darfur. His comment underlined that the United Nations should not be the only one working to resolve the crisis.

This is the fourth session the Security Council has held outside of its headquarters in New York — and the first in 14 years.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that it «is essential to reach very soon a peace agreement that will put an end to the war in the south of Sudan, also to prevent the war extending to other areas of the country, as has occurred in the inter-ethnic conflict in Darfur,» he said, as quoted by Vatican Radio.

John Garang, leader of the pro-independence rebels of the south, and the Khartoum government announced that they will sign a memorandum that commits both sides to conclude a peace agreement this year.

Civil war has been going on in Sudan for over 21 years between the regime of the north — the Khartoum government, white, Arabic and Muslim — and the rebellious south — primarily black, animist and Christian — which has left more than 2 million dead and close to 5 million displaced.

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

Since February 2003, the western region of Darfur is the scene of warlike confrontations between the Sudanese government, accused of abandoning Darfur because its population is primarily black, and of funding the Janjaweed militias — who spread death and destruction among the civilian population — and two popular self-defense rebel groups — the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army-Movement (SLA-M).

As a result of the fighting, close to 70,000 people have died and some 2 million have been displaced. Chad has assumed 200,000 of the refugees. They are the protagonists of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis at present.

The increase of violence in Darfur led Kofi Annan to ask the Security Council to intervene two weeks ago because, although progress has been made on the political front, there have been setbacks in the field.

Annan believes that the Security Council’s meeting in Nairobi on Thursday and today represents a great opportunity to announce a position on the situation, while he reminded his listeners that two million people are in need of humanitarian aid in the region.

On Thursday, Sergio Cecchini of Doctors Without Borders, who just arrived in Sudan, confirmed to Vatican Radio that the situation has worsened in the last months.

«Attacks have increased, violence against civilians in Darfur has increased, but also against humanitarian agents,» he said. «Cases of rape have also increased, evident sign that we are seeing the tip of the iceberg.»

«I hope that firm and just measures will be taken to put an end to the abuses and brutality that continues to occur,» said Bishop Mazzolari to SIR information agency of the Italian episcopate, at the start of the Nairobi summit.

In a telephone conversation from Rumbek, the prelate stressed that the «conflict of Sudan and the humanitarian tragedy of Darfur does not only affect the U.N. The rest of the world cannot remain indifferent. It is not necessary to find more excuses to be distracted from a problem that affects the whole world, and which must be brought to an end. We, as Church, continue to do everything possible to promote peace.»

«We are happy that this U.N. summit is taking place in Nairobi, but at the same time there is the fear that Northern Sudan gives no weight to this gesture,» the prelate warned.

Because in the north of the country «there is no respect for authority coming from the Western world. And the U.N. represents a force that comes from outside,» the bishop explained.

Therefore, the prelate fears that the meeting will not bear fruits. In Sudan, people are tired and without confidence. Ten days ago, in one of the largest refugee camps, the soldiers made a human chain and did not allow any help to enter.»

And the «humanitarian disaster» is «worsening»: children are dying «from the atrocities suffered, the lack of food, because the villages have been destroyed. For people to leave the refugee camps now would mean death,» but «the agencies do not succeed in taking food,» the villages are leveled» and «there is no water because the wells have been contaminated.»

«The tragedy of Darfur is unspeakable,» he concluded.

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