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Congress passes Sudan Peace Act; President Bush’s signature next

WASHINGTON (BP)–Congress has easily approved a revised bill designed to promote peace in an African country that has suffered under the militant practices of its Islamic government.

The House of Representatives and the Senate passed the Sudan Peace Act two days apart, bringing victorious conclusion to legislation that seemed destined for failure only weeks earlier. The House approved the bill with a 359-8 vote Oct. 7. The Senate adopted the measure by unanimous consent Oct. 9. President Bush is expected to sign the bill.

The legislation provides immediate aid to southern Sudan’s beleaguered citizens and requires the White House to monitor peace negotiations and to enforce sanctions on the Khartoum regime if it is not negotiating in good faith or is interfering with humanitarian aid.

“I am pleased that in the midst of a national debate on the possibility of war with Iraq, Congress recognized the tie that binds the government of Khartoum with other international terrorists,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “The American people will not tolerate terrorism against innocent men, women and children within our borders or abroad.”

Sudan’s civil war of two decades is largely a religious one. The militant Islamic regime has waged what has been widely described as a genocidal campaign against Christians, animists and moderate Muslims in the southern and central regions of the country.

The Khartoum-supported effort has included slave raids and the bombardment of hospitals, churches, schools and relief stations. It also has consisted of the rape of women and children, as well as the forcible conversion to Islam of children and starvation for Sudanese who refuse to convert. More than 2 million people have been killed and about 4.5 million people have been displaced from their homes.

After struggling to work out an agreement on two differing approaches to the problem, House and Senate supporters finally worked out a compromise in recent weeks.

The House and Senate passed different versions of the Sudan Peace Act in 2001, but only the House measure included language that would have barred companies from being listed on U.S. stock exchanges if they participate in oil development in Sudan. Big business and some in the Bush administration and Senate strongly opposed that element. Profits from oil in Sudan have helped underwrite Khartoum’s military campaign.

The capital markets sanctions were dropped from the legislation that eventually gained passage, but other provisions supporters described as strong ones were substituted. The final bill includes these elements:

— It requires the president to certify every six months that the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement are negotiating properly.

— If the president finds the Khartoum regime is not negotiating in good faith or has interfered with aid efforts, he may choose from the following sanctions: denying Sudan’s government access to oil revenues; opposing international loans and credit to Khartoum; possibly suspending diplomatic relations with Sudan; and seeking a United Nations Security Council resolution to enact an arms embargo against the Islamic regime.

— It authorizes $300 million in non-military aid to the southern Sudanese during the next three years.

In a news conference Oct. 10, Senate and House supporters expressed optimism about its potential impact.

The bill is “not the answer to all” of the concerns in Sudan, but it is a “major step forward,” said Sen. Bill Frist, R.-Tenn.

It is a “wonderful start to victory and to peace,” but Congress will take “even more aggressive steps” if necessary to bring an end to the conflict, said Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan.

As far as he is concerned, Rep. Tom Tancredo, R.-Colo., said in a warning to Khartoum that “the clock starts ticking today, and we know they are in violation” already.

Khartoum representatives criticized the congressional action, saying it would harm peace efforts, the newspaper Al-Khartoum reported, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Leaders of the Sudanese regime and the resistance movement agreed in July to a framework for a peace process. Those negotiations have been halted, according to recent reports.

Even during the negotiations, there were reports the Islamic government’s forces continued to attack Sudanese in the south. Islamic troops killed about 1,500 people and displaced about 350,000 in a late July effort, according to the Church Alliance for a New Sudan, a division of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

Congress’ action came two weeks after a prayer vigil sponsored by the Church Alliance was held outside the State Department’s offices in Washington. Speaking on the final day of the weeklong vigil, the ERLC’s Land called on Southern Baptists and other American Christians to act on behalf of the victims in Sudan in order to be obedient to God.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has described Sudan as “the world’s most violent abuser of religious freedom.” Sudan is one of six countries designated by the State Department in 2001 as countries of particular concern in the area of religious freedom. The others are Burma, China, Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

Bush appointed Land to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2001.

In addition to the ERLC and IRD, other organizations supporting the Sudan Peace Act included the American Anti-slavery Group, American Jewish Committee, Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom, Christian Solidarity International, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Servant’s Heart and World Vision.