AFRICA/SUDAN - Catholic Bishops of Sudan appeal for Darfur: “If the government of Khartoum is unwilling to shoulder its responsibilities then we call for an immediate intervention by the international community ”

Monday, 30 August 2004

Khartoum (Fides Service)- “As Bishops we cannot overlook the annihilation of any ethnic group whatever their creed, nature or clan”, the Bishops of Sudan affirm in a declaration issued in late August with regard to the tragic situation in the western Sudanese region of Darfur. “Darfur has always been considered a source of cheap labour and recruits for the army used in civil wars in other regions of Sudan” the Bishops write, adding that the present crisis started some years ago: “In the last 10-15 years the Sudanese government has always denied the existence of a rebellion in Darfur, through the media it has spread reports that the crisis in Darfur is caused by bandits and street rogues”.
To repress the revolt of the people of Darfur (who accuse the central government of neglecting the region), the regular army supports the so called “Janjaweed” militia responsible for massacring of civilians. “This is actual genocide, not the border of genocide as the international community continues to say” Bishop Macram Max Gassis told Fides. He is the Catholic Bishop of El Obeid diocese which includes the region of Darfur. “The intentionally killing of civilians of a particular ethnic group in Darfur or part of Darfur, is genocide according to the International Convention on Genocide and the International Criminal Court” the Bishop said. “Thousands of civilians killed, raped, tortured by the Janjaweed make the term “genocide” applicable to the situaiton in Darfur and therefore it is incorrect to say that the “situation is on the border genocide”. According to international estimates, in Darfur violence against civilians has caused the death of at least 30,000 and more than one million displaced persons and refugees.
In their statement the Bishops recall the responsibility of those who arm and back the Janjaweed: “The Janjaweed are not in a condition to purchase sophisticated and ammunition. In the first place they have no money to buy weapons and secondly they do not possess the aircraft being used to bomb innocent civilians”. The Bishops also recall that the Janjaweed are very similar to other pro-government militia used in other regions of Sudan.
“We ask the United Nations and the international community to exert pressure on the Sudanese government not only to stop the re-armament of Janjaweed but also to disarm them and bring to justice those responsible for crimes against humanity” the Bishops write. “If the government of Khartoum is unwilling to shoulder its responsibilities then we call for an immediate intervention by the international community. Time is crucial for saving precious and innocent lives”.
The Bishops call on the government of Sudan to allow humanitarian agencies access to assist civilians victims of the violence and they call on “both of the parties in conflict to sit down at the negotiation table to reach a peaceful solution to the situation in the region”.
Today, 30 August, is the deadline for the United Nations’ ultimatum to the Sudanese government to stop supporting the Janjaweed. If Khartoum fails to respect the ultimatum it will be subject to economic sanctions. In the meantime in Abuja (Nigeria) peace talks continue between the government of Sudan and the two guerrilla movements in Darfur. One of the observers present at the talks is a delegation from the Roma based S. Egidio Community. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 30/8/2004, righe 46 parole 563)