WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom says the civil war in Sudan is raging as strong as ever.
“The commission has found the government of Sudan to be the world’s most violent abuser of the right to freedom of religion and belief,” commission chairman Michael Young told members of the House International Relations Committee Wednesday.
“Religion is a major factor in Sudan’s ongoing civil war, a conflict that has taken over two million lives and left four million homeless,” he said.
Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) said the conflict, which is Africa’s longest running civil war, shows no signs of ending.
“The National Islamic Front regime, which came to power by ousting a democratically-elected government in 1989, continues to mount a brutal military campaign against its powerless [Christian and Animist] masses in the south,” he said.
In a Sept. 2001 speech, President Bush stated his position on the conflict: “For nearly two decades, the government of Sudan has waged a brutal and shameful war against its own people. This is not right, and this must stop.”
But some members of Congress say Bush is thwarting what could be the most effective tool to stop the fighting.
Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.) said the White House is blocking a conference committee’s consideration of the Sudan Peace Act (H.R. 2052).
“It was a message from the White House that said, ‘Because of September the 11th, the view of Sudan has changed,'” Payne told his colleagues on the committee.
The dispute is over Section Nine of the Sudanese Peace Act, which directs the president to block companies from raising money in the U.S. or trading their stocks or bonds in U.S. financial markets if they are “engaged in the exploration, production, transportation (by pipeline or otherwise), or refining of petroleum, natural gas, or petroleum products in Sudan.”
“For once, we thought we had something that could finally make the government of Sudan listen,” Payne said. “We had capital market sanctions looming. But this tool has been denied us.”
Walter Kansteiner, assistant secretary of state for Africa, admitted the administration has concerns about the proposed sanctions.
“Section Nine is of particular interest and concern to us. It involves political interference in capital markets,” Kansteiner told the committee. “As the assistant secretary of state for Africa, I go all over Africa asking political leaders, African political leaders, ‘Please divorce politics from your economic policy.'”
Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) interrupted Kansteiner.
“Are you living in this world? In the United States we have divorced politics from economics?” Lantos asked. “I can’t accept the fact that you seriously are making such statements.”
“Absolutely,” Kansteiner responded.
“Well, then come back to this planet,” Lantos interrupted again, “because economics and politics are not going to be divorced either in the Sudan or elsewhere.”
“And when you start interfering directly in your capital markets, you’re playing with fire,” Kansteiner argued.
“Well, so far, we have played with human lives,” Lantos replied, “millions of human lives.”
Young said the administration must withdraw its opposition to at least the threat of sanctions if it is to have any influence over the Sudanese government in Khartoum.
“The only way to get Khartoum’s attention is to curtail its oil revenues, the only asset that is keeping it from bankruptcy,” Young argued. “Millions of lives depend on it.”
A report prepared by former Sen. John Danforth, whom Bush appointed as a special envoy for peace in Sudan, supports the sanctions as well.
“Any peace process should address the oil issue in order to resolve a major cause of conflict and to serve as the basis for a just peace,” Danforth said. “The fair allocation of oil resources could be the key to working out broader political issues if it were possible to find a monetary formula for sharing oil revenue between the central government and the people of the south.”
Kansteiner pointed out that Danforth speaks for himself, and his recommendations are not binding on the administration.
Young said the Sudanese government is unlikely to agree to such an arrangement, in any event, without the threat of lost revenue that U.S. sanctions would cause.
Johnson is the congressional bureau chief with www.CNSNews.com. Used by permission.