In Sudan, ‘genocide’ and ‘religious war.’

In Sudan, ‘genocide’ and ‘religious war.’

Dan Eiffe, an aid worker who has spent 11 years in southern Sudan, says a severe famine there that threatens to kill tens of thousands in the coming weeks is “carefully manipulated” by the Khartoum government and is akin to “genocide” or “ethnic cleansing.” Eiffe, a staff member of Norwegian People’s Aid, also told a Capitol Hill news conference that the decades-old fighting between the Muslim-controlled government in the north and rebels in the mostly Christian and animist south is essentially a “religious war.”

“Religion is a very important issue here,” Eiffe said. “This is very much a religious war of fundamentalist Islam on the Christian population of southern Sudan. People call them Christian animists. Well, they’re not animist, they’re largely Christians, and it’s our missionaries [who] have made them Christians… and then when they are persecuted by extreme Islam, we leave them to suffer in this situation.”

If the crisis is left unchecked, Eiffe warned, by December some 2 million people in southern Sudan could die from starvation or fighting and the war could spread to other east African nations. “The bottom line here is that the government wants the land without the people,” said Eiffe, referring to the oil-rich area. “And it wants to go much further than that. It wants to go into Uganda, and into Kenya…. The government of Sudan is sponsoring terrorism in the region.”

In recent days the plans have been unveiled for Operation Life Sudan, a UN-sponsored food aid effort that will provide 15,000 metric tons of food per month to help ease the famine in southern Sudan. A U.S. State Department official has described the plan as the biggest such effort ever. “The current food delivery system program will be the largest of its kind in history, surpassing the Berlin airlift,” Susan Rice, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, informed a congressional hearing. During the 1948 Berlin airlift planes landed or took off every 90 seconds to deliver food to the Soviet-blocked German city.

Still, this past summer the UN World Food Program issued an urgent appeal for funds to increase the food aid to southern Sudan. Since 1989 the U.S. has given more than $700 million in humanitarian aid to the country and has pledged an additional $78 million in 1998.

During the past 15 years–“the current phase of the war”–some 2 million Sudanese have already lost their lives to famine or fighting and another 4 million have been displaced, Roger Winter, head of the U.S. Committee for Refugees, told the Washington news conference. “The context of the famine is war,” Winter said. “And the context of the war is injustice, human rights abuses and lack of development.”

In an effort to combat the ills plaguing southern Sudan, Representatives Tony Hall (D., Ohio) and Frank Wolf (R., Va.) recently called on President Clinton to appoint a special envoy “of significant stature” to help broker peace in the troubled region. At the news conference, Hall said he met recently with National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and officials at the Agency for International Development to discuss the envoy proposal as well as the need to step up aid.

“They’re going to take another look at the idea of sending a national envoy there,” said Hall. “I’m not sure that they’re terribly excited about the idea because it pretty much goes against their policy.” That policy has been “to isolate the north, to help with the various rebel organizations and to not really have contact with the Khartoum government,” he said. “What good does it do to not talk to the people in the north? I think we should talk to them. I think if we can go to China… we can certainly talk… to the Khartoum government,” Hall added, referring to Clinton’s controversial ten-day China visit in June.

In late July both sides in the civil war announced a three-month cease-fire in southwest Sudan, the region hardest hit by the famine, to allow food deliveries there. However, aid workers say the cease-fire coincides with the rainy season when military maneuvers, as well as relief efforts, are hampered because roads are impassable. “It’s extremely convenient for them to call a cease-fire now,” Jacob Akol of World Vision, an evangelical relief and development agency, said in Nairobi, Kenya. “But during this period it’s difficult for us to get any food in, and it’s due to end just when we can start using the roads again.”

Obstacles notwithstanding, Church World Service, the relief arm of the National Council of Churches, is working with Action by Churches Together, an international ecumenical emergency response network, to step up its efforts in Sudan. The consortium, which includes the Roman Catholic relief agency Caritas, Lutheran World Federation and Norwegian Church Aid, already has delivered approximately 1,400 metric tons of food and 185 metric tons of seeds to Sudan. Another 200 metric tons of food is in transport, but the infrastructure problems have hampered their delivery. In addition, the church groups hope to raise another $3 million in public and denominational support for Sudan.

At the Washington press conference Hall applauded the cease-fire agreement despite its flaws and called on the Clinton administration to press for international monitors in the region to check on its implementation. Eiffe, a former Roman Catholic priest from Ireland who has worked to resettle more than 200,000 Sudanese refugees, praised the efforts of U.S. religious aid groups that he said have worked incessantly for years in Sudan. “It is World Vision that is in there, it’s Catholic Relief Services in the front lines, first with the food, first with the supplies,” he said, adding that 75 percent of aid to Sudan comes from the U.S. “If American aid had not been there, the Sudanese people would not be there today.”

COPYRIGHT 1998 The Christian Century Foundation

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning