DAILY CATHOLIC WEDNESDAY February 24, 1999 vol. 10, no. 38
NEWS & VIEWS
"CATASTROPHE IS IMMINENT" IN SUDAN, FIDES REPORTS
If nothing is done to stop the fighting and famine, 2.5 million Africans in southern Sudan are bound to die.
Fides sources report that since May 1998, when yet another attempt to start dialogue between Sudanese rebels and the government army failed, the situation in Southern Sudan has become steadily worse. To add to the distress of war, a poor harvest has left the people-- many of them already homeless-- now in danger of starving to death.
Many fields were left uncultivated because the seed supplied by relief groups was eaten by the hungry people. Some even dug up seed which had already sown, for want of something to eat.
A catastrophe is imminent and will involve the whole of southern Sudan, both the part controlled by the militant Islam government and the part "liberated" by the Sudan People's Liberation Army.
This natural calamity is aggravated by human violence. The worst struck area is Bahr El Ghazal, and Wau, the main city, home for most of the Dinka people, the ethnic group which supplies most of the soldiers for the SPLA. (A more thorough report on the crisis in Wau follows.)
The Khartoum government incites primitive and militant Islam Baggara tribes (of non-Sudanese origin), to raid the Dinka area. Since the raiders are equipped with modern arms, the Dinka victims are powerless to stop these groups from raiding livestock, destroying villages, and killing people. The Baggara tribesmen effectively form a part of the militant Islamic force fighting rebels in southwestern Sudan. They are also responsible for human trafficking: selling boys and girls to merchants from the north and the Middle East as servants or prostitutes.
There is another "too human" factor in the catastrophe: the fact that the government waited so long before allowing relief agencies to assist the suffering people of southern Sudan. Only when news of the ongoing tragedy leaked abroad did the government decide to accept humanitarian aid for the region.
On February 21, Sudanese President Omar El Bashir voiced his determination to end the conflict-- even allowing secession in the south-- but his proposal, like others before it, was received with skepticism. For 17 years the Khartoum government has waged a jihad in the quest to make all Sudan a militant Islamic nation. War and violence have impoverished the country: the economy has collapsed, 80 percent of the industries have closed down.
Fides sources report: "Talks for a cessation of hostilities and negotiations for peace are all face-saving expedients while the Islamization machine goes ahead undisturbed. Those who resist are exterminated, girls are kidnapped and sold as concubines to Muslims, street children, and orphans are interned in special re-education camps and 'Islamized.'"
Every evening the national media controlled by the Sudanese government exalts the war with pictures of young soldiers. To the cry "Allah is great!" people dance in delirium and even the president dances on a military van making its way among the crowds, shouting: "One Sudan, one religion, Islam, one language, Arabic!" These demonstrations are all being orchestrated by the government, at a time when millions of ordinary people go hungry and even the members of the middle classes see their businesses collapse.
In recent weeks there has been some disputes within the Khartoum government: an even more militant Islamic group, formed around Saduq abd-el-Majid of the Islamic Brotherhood-- has criticized the strongman of the regime, Hassan Al Tourabi, calling him a "revisionist." At the same time, an internal opposition group has weighed in, asking for "full democratization" of the country. But Islam seems to be the one aspect of the government's program which cannot be reconsidered. Unless the international community makes a united call for a political solution in Sudan, there is not much hope for an end to the war.
In the southern Sudanese city of Wau alone, every month at least 1,500 people die of starvation. In the whole Bahr El Ghazal region it is estimated that 700 die every day. Through Fides, eyewitnesses are launching an urgent appeal for food, clothing, medicine, and medical personnel. They are also looking for people who can take care of numerous orphaned children, mostly Christians or animists, who risk otherwise being interned in Islam re-education camps.
A year ago the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) led by John Garang, which fighting for autonomy in the south, took Wau. But their victory there lasted only for a few days, until Islamic troops and Baggara raiders returned and started a door-to-door hunt for Dinka people, the ethnic group which supplies most of the soldiers for the SPLA. Countless summary executions of women, men, and children were carried out.
The people fled Wau, but now hunger is pushing them back toward the city where there are two Catholic dispensaries run by missionaries. According to Fides sources, in the last few months tens of thousands of people have come pouring back into Wau from the surrounding areas. "They come in exhausted," Fides sources report; "particularly the women and children, seeking some sort of shelter in ruined or abandoned buildings in which to rest and often in which to die."
"Along the road," says one eyewitness, "I saw children crying beside their dead mother's body. A little further on a small boy was trying with his bare hands to dig a pit to bury his dead father." A volunteer who works in one of the Catholic mission dispensaries tells how a family-- mother, father, and two children-- arrived "totally exhausted and the woman with acute dysentery. They asked for some soap to wash before eating the food we offered them." The family was directed to a nearby well, and headed off in that direction, but failed to return. "I learned later," said the volunteer, who asked to remain anonymous, "that the mother had died, the father had been captured and killed, and the children abandoned in the road."
Another eyewitness tells of a man who arrived in Wau with his five nephews, looking for help. The man was shot at a road block and the terrified children ran away. No one has seen the boys since that time; they may have been put in one of the government education camps where orphans and abandoned children are "Islamized."
There are so many dead around Wau that nobody bothers to bury the bodies. Father M., one of the missionary priests, has helped to assemble a group of volunteers, who have begun digging graves.
The appeal sent by the missionaries to Fides warns that the number of hungry people continues to rise, and although at the moment there are some relief agencies in the area, such as Irish Goal, Medecins San Frontières and the Save the Children Fund, the sanitary structures are inadequate and hunger and disease are decimating the population.
One eyewitness says it is dangerous even to receive aid; at night,
Baggara raiders armed with rifles break into the camps to steal even
the bits of food and clothing which have been supplied to the
evacuees. Aside from calling for food, clothing, medical, and
educational personnel, the appeal stresses the need for a "plan for
the future"-- "a political solution to the conflict must be found and
imposed by the international community. We must eliminate the idea
that Allah wants all this. What use to God is an Islam which
triumphs, heedless of suffering and violation of human rights?"
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NEWS & VIEWS