Sudan's Religious War

Article excerpt

JUST A WEEK after a Sudanese military airplane bombed a Roman Catholic primary school, killing 14 students and one teacher, Catholic Bishop Macram Max Gassis, head of the Nuba diocese in which the bombing occurred, told a U.S. audience that it was an intentional "slaughter of the innocents."

"I have time and time again told the world that the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum has been, and is, conducting a campaign of genocide aimed at exterminating the Christian, African and non-Arab populations of Sudan in order to establish a uniform Arab-Islamic fundamentalist state in the heart of Africa," Gassis said. "This terrible, heartbreaking incident is yet another piece of evidence, if more were still needed that the war in Sudan is a religious and ethnic war launched by Khartoum and aimed at the destruction of my people. We call upon the international community to refuse to stand idly by as the Christian population of Africa and Sudan is exterminated."

Gassis spoke out against the February 8 attack at a public hearing on religious freedom in Sudan held February 15 at the Capitol Building in Washington. Activists, along with Muslims and Christians exiled from the Sudan, called for the U.S. to pursue an end to religious persecution in the war-tom country, where more than 2 million people have died in fighting and war-induced famines since strife began in 1983 between the Islamic government in the north and rebels in the predominantly African, animist and Christian south. There may be signs that the U.S. government--and others--are listening.

"No situation in the world has a greater sense of urgency," said David Saperstein, chairman of the nine-member congressionally created U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which sponsored the hearing, its first on the issue. "Two million are dead already. Four to five mil lion have been displaced. The suffering that is happening is not a factor of famine or war, but a government policy that uses food ... as a weapon of war."

Though the Sudanese government contends that the school was an appropriate target because rebels were positioned in an area nearby, the bombing prompted both Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and President Clinton to issue statements denouncing the act. "It is an outrage that such egregious abuses against innocent Sudanese citizens have become commonplace in the ongoing civil war in Sudan, which has claimed over 2 million lives," said Clinton. "The United States calls on the government of Sudan to cease all aerial bombardment and to refrain from any attacks on civilian targets. We also call for full and immediate access for humanitarian organizations seeking to provide relief to war-ravaged civilians in Sudan."

The school bombing came only three weeks after the government of Sudan had promised a cease-fire. "If this is not religious and ethnic discrimination, then I don't know what is," said Gassis. …