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Naming of Sudan envoy greeted by Land, Graham

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Obama’s appointment of a special envoy for Sudan drew commendation from evangelical Christian advocates for peace in the strife-torn east African country.

Obama named retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott Gration March 18 to serve as the U.S. representative in the effort to gain peace in Darfur, the country’s western region that is engulfed in a government-backed, genocidal campaign, and to produce complete implementation of a treaty between Khartoum and the people of southern Sudan.

“I applaud the president for appointing a special envoy to focus on this critical crisis,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “I think it is critically important that we give our government’s full and immediate attention to doing everything we can to avoid a human catastrophe of horrendous proportions in Sudan.”

Franklin Graham, president of the evangelical relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, applauded Obama’s decision.

“This is a critical time in Sudan and it is important for the United States to do as much as possible to help the millions of people whose lives hang in the balance because of the ongoing crises there,” Graham said in a written statement. “My prayers go out to both the president and General Gration that God would grant them wisdom as they navigate the complexities of Africa’s largest nation.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan panel on which Land serves, also commended the naming of an envoy. In February, USCIRF reiterated its call for a special envoy for Sudan in making a series of policy recommendations for peace in that country.

The crisis in Darfur deepened March 4, when Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir ordered at least 10 humanitarian aid organizations out of the country. Bashir’s action came after the International Criminal Court in The Hague, The Netherlands, issued an arrest warrant for him on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“Sudan is a priority for this administration, particularly at a time when it cries out for peace and for justice,” Obama said in a written statement announcing Gration’s appointment. “The worsening humanitarian crisis there makes our task all the more urgent.

“General Gration’s personal and professional background, and his service to the country as both a military leader and humanitarian, give him the insights and experience necessary for this assignment. He knows the region, has broad experience and has my complete confidence.”

Gration grew up in the Congo, where his parents were missionaries.

During the last six years in Darfur, Khartoum military forces and Arab militias backed by the government have instituted ethnic cleansing against African Muslims, resulting in the killing of about 400,000 people, as well as rampant torture, rape and kidnapping, USCIRF has reported. About 2 million Sudanese are homeless in Darfur and another 250,000 are in refugee camps in Chad and the Central African Republic, according to USCIRF.

While Darfur’s crisis involves conflict between Arab Muslims and African Muslims, a civil war of more than 20 years that ended in 2005 involved a genocidal campaign by the militant Islamic, Arab regime in Khartoum against Christians and animists in southern Sudan, as well as moderate African Muslims. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that closed that war has yet to be fully implemented.

In his March 18 announcement, Obama said the United States will work with both sides to bring about enforcement of the treaty. USCIRF called for the new envoy to focus on CPA’s implementation.

Samaritan’s Purse is providing humanitarian aid in Darfur and is reconstructing church buildings destroyed during the civil war in southern Sudan. It was not one of the relief organizations expelled by Bashir.

Sudan is one of eight regimes designated by the U.S. State Department as “countries of particular concern,” a label reserved for the world’s worst violators of religious liberty.

USCIRF is a nine-member panel selected by the president and congressional leaders. It reports to the White House and Congress on religious freedom overseas.
Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.

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