WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush took another step Sept. 6 toward seeking an end to the Sudanese government’s religious-based war against some of its people by naming former U.S. Senator John Danforth as a special envoy to the North African country.
The president’s action is aimed at finding a way for the United States to help bring peace in an 18-year civil war that has resulted in more than 2 million deaths and the displacement of more than 4 million people. Sudan’s militant Islamic regime has waged what has been widely described as a genocidal campaign against Christians, as well as animists and moderate Muslims, in the southern and central regions of the country. This effort supported by Khartoum has included slave raids and the bombing of hospitals, churches, schools, relief stations and villages.
“I am under no illusions,” Bush said in announcing Danforth’s appointment at a 10-minute ceremony in the White House Rose Garden. “Jack Danforth has taken on an incredibly difficult assignment. The degree of difficulty is high, but this is an issue that is really important. It is important to this administration, it’s important to the world, to bring some sanity to the Sudan.
“For our part, we’re committed to pursuing a just peace, which will spare that land from more years of sorrow.”
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, welcomed Danforth’s appointment.
“Anything that can be done to heighten the awareness of the American people to the atrocities and genocide being perpetrated against Christians in southern Sudan is a tremendous step in the right direction,” Land said. “The special envoy to Sudan needed to be someone who is a high-profile person with a recognized and distinguished record of public service to the nation. Former Senator Danforth certainly fits that description admirably. The American people and their government must demand that this grievous violation of every civilized standard of human behavior, including the selling of people into human bondage, must stop.”
Danforth, who served 18 years as a Republican senator from Missouri before retiring in 1995, said he is willing “to deal constructively with both sides of the conflict.”
Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., a congressional leader in decrying religious and human rights violations in Sudan, admonished Danforth “to not equate the two sides in this conflict. They are not equal. The south’s principles resonate with our own, including their life-and-death stand for democracy and religious liberty. The actions of the northern government include terrorism and human rights atrocities.”
On the same day, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced new education and agriculture programs for southern Sudan. USAID funds for humanitarian and development efforts in Sudan will increase by $25 to $30 million in the next budget year.
USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios also said the Sudanese government permitted a relief flight of eight metric tons of food to the Nuba Mountains in central Sudan only the week before. It was the first time Khartoum had allowed such a flight to an opposition-controlled area, he said.
Bush named Natsios special humanitarian coordinator to Sudan in early May.
Khartoum has veto power over Operation Lifeline Sudan, the United Nations-approved relief outreach and has prevented aid from reaching the needy who are targets of the regime. According to international relief organizations, the regime has used food in an attempt to coerce Christians and animists to convert to Islam.
The administration actions came the same month negotiations are expected in a congressional conference committee over the final version of legislation designed to deal with the Sudanese problem. Both the Senate and House of Representatives have approved the Sudan Peace Act but with a significant difference.
The House, which passed its version (H.R. 2052) with a 422-2 vote, included an element that has produced strong opposition from big business and officials in the Bush administration. The provision would bar foreign companies from being listed on U.S. stock exchanges if they participate in oil development in Sudan. The Senate approved its bill (S. 180) by unanimous consent without such a restriction.
The ERLC and other opponents of Christian persecution support the House-adopted provision. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom announced Sept. 6 it was strongly urging Bush to overrule some in his administration and endorse the House language.
The revenue from oil development in Sudan by foreign companies has enabled the regime to expand its military, according to the State Department.
“Enactment of the capital-markets provisions of the Sudan Peace Act would give the president and [Secretary of State Colin Powell] added leverage in getting the Khartoum regime to the bargaining table and negotiating a just end to the war,” the commission said in a written statement.
The commission reiterated its judgment Sudan is the “world’s most violent abuser of religious freedom.”
In his comments at the White House ceremony, Danforth said he is “not a one-man band or an independent contractor.”
“A special envoy is not a separate entity,” said Danforth, an ordained Episcopal priest. “He should support the normal diplomatic enterprise of the United States and not supplant it.”