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Relief agencies’ work in Sudan resumes amid bombing scares

WASHINGTON (BP)–United Nations relief flights are again taking food and medicine into Sudan — but there is no long-term relief in sight for the nation’s suffering people.

Attacks had forced relief agencies to cancel missions of mercy into the country for more than a week, according to various news sources cited by Crosswalk.com, an Internet news and information site. There have been at least 33 bombing attacks against relief sites in south and central Sudan since July, the Associated Press reported.

Relief flights resumed during the week of Aug. 14 after the United Nations agreed to clear them with the government 14 days before their arrival, according to the U.S.-based group World Relief. Areas where World Relief is working were bombed, however, during the week of Aug. 21, according to the ministry.

Sudanese planes also have bombed areas where Samaritan’s Purse is at work, Crosswalk.com reported, and sites run by the U.N. World Food Programme, Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross also have been bombed. The groups feed and provide medical care to refugees of Sudan’s 17-year civil war.

The attacks are not directed at rebel forces but are attempts to intimidate the relief agencies into abandoning the people of southern Sudan, said Elijah Malok of the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association, a group affiliated with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. The SPLA is waging a defensive war to keep Khartoum’s Islamic troops from taking over the south.

“The bombing of innocent civilians and relief work is a callous and inhumane act,” World Relief’s Clive Calver said. “The Khartoum government must stand indicted of recklessly playing with the lives of tens of thousands of people who, without food and medical supplies, face imminent death.”

Khartoum has tried to forcibly Islamicize the Christian and animist south since 1983, according to Maryland-based International Christian Concern. Sudanese government troops have carried out mass attacks on civilians in the past decade, killing men and taking women and children into slavery. Churches have been destroyed and pastors killed, ICC reported.

An estimated 2 million people have died in the war and from a government-induced famine. Nearly 5 million are displaced from their homes and living in refugee camps, according to ICC.

Some Christians flee north to Khartoum, where there is some religious freedom. The Roman Catholic Church and eight Protestant denominations are established in the capital city. Christians are tolerated there because they are considered loyal to the government — and are expected to be converted in time, a Sudanese pastor said.

Muslim leaders in Khartoum use the law rather than lethal force to Islamicize Christians. A recent decree orders schools to teach students the tenets of Islam, regardless of their faith, ICC reported. Schools, including those run by Christians, must adopt the new curriculum or close.

Christians in the north also suffer persecution. Evangelism among Muslims is discouraged and churches are routinely closed, ICC said. Properties belonging to Christians often are confiscated; one building belonging to a Catholic group was taken away and turned into a mosque.

Sudan’s church leaders are “crying out to God for their impoverished and spiritually hungry people,” according to ICC. “They are pleading with God to end the injustice and suffering.”

Christians in the United States are praying for Sudan through Sept. 14. The National Black Catholic Clergy initiated a 40-day time of prayer for Sudan Aug. 6. Franciscan priest James Goode heads the group. He will address a gathering at the U.N. Sept. 9 organized by a group of New York City churches to protest the silence of the United States and other Western nations.
Little is associate editor of Religion Today, part of the News & Culture channel at Crosswalk.com. Used by permission.

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  • Steve Little