by Timothy Elphick
A DELEGATION from the Sudanese bishops' conference visiting London this week has charged the authorities in Khartoum with conducting a ruthless slaughter in the Nuba Mountains of central Sudan.
Bishop Macram Max Gassis of El Obeid, a town to the north of the Nuba Mountains. accused the Sudanese government of carrying out raids in the area, where support for the rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) is strong.
Many villagers had been killed and others forced out of their homes and sent to far off parts of Sudan, the bishop said.
Bishop Gassis, who was in Rome with his fellow Sudanese bishops last week for talks with Pope John Paul H on the crisis facing Sudan, visited London with Mgr Rudolf Deng Majak, apostolic administrator of the western diocese of Wau, and Fr Liam Armour, general secretary of the Sudanese bishops' conference.
On Tuesday the delegation met Cardinal Basil Hume in Westminster. Details of the meeting were kept private, but the churchmen were understood to have discussed the increasingly difficult situation of the Church in Sudan. Foreign missionaries have been expelled from the mainly Christian southern Sudan in recent weeks.
Bishop Gassis said an impassioned statement issued last week by the Pope condemning the Sudanese government for widespread abuses of human rights in the south, and for its imposition of Islamic law on Sudan's nonMuslim peoples, reflected the support the Church in the country had received from the Vatican.
The bishop stressed that the war between government troops and the SPLA had destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of families. He called on all those involved in the fighting to work towards a negotiated peace.
Famine is currently stalking southern Sudan. The lives of as many as seven million Sudanese are estimated to be at risk from starvation and disease.
Bishop Gassis said the bishops recognised that their outspoken criticism of the Khartoum regime could provoke a further backlash against the Church. Only last month the parish priest of the southern city of Juba, Fr David Tombe, was arrested after being accused of helping students escape the siege of the city and was taken to prison in Khartoum, he said. Attempts to secure his release had proved unsuccessful.