BY CHRISTINA FARRELL
RELIGIOUS leaders have held demonstrations across the world to highlight the plight of the victims of the forgotten war in Darfur,
Last Sunday's day of prayer and activism in over 30 capitals represented the largest mobilisation of support for the Sudanese province since the conflict began more than three years ago. Time is running out for over two million refugees displaced by the fighting between the government-sponsored Janjaweed militias and rebels opposed to the Khartoum regime.
In London Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor led prayers with a delegation of spiritual leaders, who called for the international community to intervene to help end the conflict.
"Have mercy on the oppressed and vexed people of Darfur," he said. "They have been suffering for a long time. Many have lost relatives in a violent way. A great number were forced to abandon their houses, their properties and their villages in order to save their lives. Among them are children, women, elderly; they are innocent but they suffer for the wickedness of others, who should be their brothers... 0 loving Father, have mercy on them, let them go back to their homes and live in peace."
Speaking to reporters outside Downing Street the Cardinal said the situation was increasingly desperate.
"The conflict has left hundreds of thousands dead and driven many millions more from their homes," he explained. "If the humanitarian situation continues to worsen, many more will be affected. It will he on the conscience of the world if we allow Darfur to descend further into suffering."
The Cardinal was joined by representatives of the Jewish and Muslim faiths. Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra called for an end to the "violence, the horror, the rape". Rabbi Barry Marcus, representing the Chief Rabbi, recalled the genocide of Rwanda in 1994. "We must not sleepwalk into another Rwanda," he said. "By working with other faiths we can show that principles like the protections of civilians are universal ones." Despite the signing of a peace agreement in Khartoum on May S there are reports of increasing attacks on rebelheld areas with civilians targeted with particular brutality — dismemberment and killing of babies and children is not uncommon. The fragile peace that remains has only been achieved through the presence of an under-resoureed African Union force. But on September 30 the 7,000 troops are scheduled to pull out and a bloodbath is predicted.
President Omar Hassan alBashir has so far refused to accept a United Nations resolution to deploy more than 20,000 UN peacekeepers to the region.
Speaking at a meeting of the non-aligned nations in Cuba last Saturday he said that under no circumstances would he accept UN troops in western Sudan. "We don't want the United Nations back to Sudan no matter the conditions," he said. He has previously referred to the UN as an "invasion force" with the ulterior motive of seeking regime change.
Last week UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned the world of yet more death and suffering "perhaps on a catastrophic scale".Addressing the UN Security Council, actor and human rights activist George Clooney put the situation starkly. "Death will follow," he said, "make no mistake.
"After September 30, you won't need the UN. You will simply need men with shovels and bleached white linen."
The rise of the rebel groups was in part a response to the desire by Khartoum to impose Sharia law with the annexation of land and removal of property. It represents cultural and racial obliteration, with the Arab forces of al-Bashir eliminating the indigenous and largely black African population. Although these African ethnic groups are mostly Muslim, they practise a form of the religion that is infused with Sufism and animism, and is held in contempt by the Arab Islamic government of Khartoum.
Church leaders have continued to express concerns about the ambitions of the government of Sudan. A report from Aid to the Church in Need, published this month, states that it is "thought to be undeniable that Khartoum is determined to enforce Sharia beyond the confines of the north and that resources both financial and human are being expanded to consolidate Islam in the south".
There were signs this week that nations were starting to respond to the crisis. Tony Blair warned of Sudan's increased isolation if it fails to heed the concerns of the international community. He has proposed an "incentive package" to get Sudan to comply with international demands. "The situation is unacceptable," he said.
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