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Bill would urge peace, relief efforts in Sudan

WASHINGTON (BP)–Legislation designed to further the United States’ involvement in helping end a Sudanese campaign marked by religious persecution has been reintroduced in Congress.

The Sudan Peace Act not only condemns the Khartoum government’s support of mass violations of human rights, including the trade in slaves, but it calls for the United States to take specific steps in providing relief to victims of the militant Islamic regime and in promoting the peace process.

Sen. Bill Frist, R.-Tenn., is the chief sponsor of the Senate version, S. 180. Sen. Russell Feingold, D.-Wis., is the lead Democratic sponsor. The lead sponsors in the House of Representatives are Reps. Tom Tancredo, R.-Colo., and Donald Payne, D.-N.J. The House version is H.R. 931.

Previous versions have failed to make it through both houses.

More than 2 million people have died and more than 4 million have been displaced in a civil war that has lasted for more than 17 years in the African country.

In recent years, the Sudanese government has been identified as one of the world’s worst perpetrators of religious persecution. Last May, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom described Sudan as “the world’s most violent abuser to the right to freedom of religion and belief” in its first report.

The militant Islamic regime has conducted an ongoing campaign against Christian and animist villages in the central and southern parts of the country. Troops supported by Khartoum have regularly raided and burned such villages, killing the men and capturing women and children to be used or sold as slaves. The regime has conducted bombing campaigns against civilians, with Christian hospitals and schools among the targets.

The legislation condemns human rights violations on both sides, as well as Khartoum’s use of raiding parties and toleration of the slave trade. It authorizes the secretary of state to utilize his resources to support a peace process in Sudan. The bill calls on the president to work for revision of the terms of Operation Lifeline Sudan, the United Nations-approved relief outreach, to halt the veto power of the Sudanese government over its operation. It also encourages the president to continue to increase the use of non-OLS agencies to do relief work in southern Sudan. In addition, the legislation requires reports on Sudan’s use of profits from oil fields to finance its war effort, as well as the extent of financing from U.S. sources for the oil fields and pipelines.

In introducing the bill March 7, Tancredo said he is confident a “meaningful” bill can be passed by Congress and signed by President Bush.

“Khartoum is now using oil revenues to finance their terror in the south, which underscores the immediate need of the United States government to become increasingly involved in facilitating an end to this war,” Tancredo said in a written statement. “We can no longer turn a blind eye to this region, hoping that the destruction will end and disappear.”

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission joined more than 200 other organizations in late 1999 in calling for President Clinton to use his authority to help bring peace in Sudan. The White House did little of public notice to hold Khartoum accountable until late in Clinton’s second term. Last October, the U.N. General Assembly rejected Sudan for a seat in the U.N. Security Council, with the United States leading the campaign against Sudan’s election.

At the time, ERLC President Richard Land called for the next administration to “take much stronger measures to rid the Sudanese people of the burden of this atrocity-laden dictatorship that currently is so atrociously persecuting its own people.”