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Bush naming of aid coordinator to Sudan ‘breakthrough,’ Land says

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush’s appointment of an administrator for relief to the afflicted in war-torn Sudan is a “tremendous breakthrough,” the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission said.

Bush named Andrew Natsios as special humanitarian coordinator to ensure food reaches those who need it in the east African country. Natsios recently was confirmed as administrator of the Agency for International Development. As Bush acknowledged, aid organizations have reported food is used by the militant regime in Khartoum in an attempt to coerce Sudanese Christians and animists to convert to Islam.

In announcing the appointment at an American Jewish Committee dinner, the president called Sudan a “disaster area for human rights. The right of conscience has been singled out for special abuse by the Sudanese authorities. We must turn the eyes of the world upon the atrocities in the Sudan.”

The appointment of Natsios is a “first step” that will be followed by others, Bush said. “Our actions begin today, and my administration will continue to speak and act for as long as the persecution and atrocities in the Sudan last.”

Bush’s action “shows that this president is going to stand on the best of the American conscience,” Land said May 7 on “For Faith and Family,” the ERLC’s radio program. It was the most significant White House action on the Sudan tragedy since the crisis became a focus of attention in recent years.

The 18-year civil war in Sudan has resulted in about two million deaths and the displacement of more than four million people. The Islamic regime’s campaign of terror — which includes slave raids and the bombing of hospitals, churches, schools and relief stations — has primarily been aimed at Christian and animist villages in central and southern Sudan.

Khartoum has veto power over Operation Lifeline Sudan, the U.N.-approved relief outreach, and has been able to prevent aid from reaching the needy who are targets of the regime. Concerns have been expressed a famine likely will strike this summer if food is not delivered soon.

In March, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a nine-member panel appointed by the president and congressional leaders, recommended the United States continue to increase humanitarian aid to the Sudanese through non-U.N. channels. The panel reiterated its description of Sudan as “the world’s most violent abuser of the right to freedom of religion and belief.” It called for Bush to name someone of international stature as a special envoy to bring about peace in Sudan. It also criticized President Clinton’s lack of action on Sudan, saying he “did not adequately employ the ‘bully pulpit’ of his office to inform the American public or enlist international opposition.”

Bush’s May 3 announcement came the same week the United States lost its seat on the U.N. Commission on Human Rights for the first time since the body was formed in 1947. Sudan, meanwhile, gained a seat on the commission.

Bush’s speech to the AJC is “one of the greatest speeches ever given by an American president on the subject of soul freedom and religious liberty,” the ERLC’s Land said.

In his speech, Bush affirmed the United States’ support of Israel and its opposition to China’s persecution of Christians and other religious adherents. “China aspires to national strength and greatness,” he said. “But these acts of persecution are acts of fear — and, therefore, of weakness.”

The president called freedom of religion “the first freedom of the human soul — the right to speak the words that God places in our mouths. We must stand for that freedom in our country. We must speak for that freedom in the world.”

Land said, “It is a blessing that we have a president who can speak these words and believe these words.”