Christian peacemakers return to Iraq - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
May 4, 2004

Christian peacemakers return to Iraq

-4/5/04

Two members of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) have returned to Iraq to explore conditions for the team's full return.

Stewart Vriesinga and Le Anne Clausen arrived back in Iraq on 3rd May and will now consult with Iraqi and international human rights workers, religious leaders, and other Iraqi community representatives to determine current priorities for CPT's violence-reduction work, and the ability of the team to operate under current conditions.

Additional team members in Amman are prepared to enter Iraq if circumstances allow, but have said that if they are kidnapped or caught in the middle of a violent conflict situation they do not wish violence to be used to punish the perpetrators, and have asked that there be no retaliation.

After maintaining an almost continuous presence in Iraq from October 2002, CPT left Baghdad after advice from Iraqi colleagues.

The "extremely aggressive" actions of the U.S. and Coalition Forces throughout Iraq and especially in Fallujah created widespread suspicion and fear which CPT said put all internationals at risk.

CPT's "most trusted Iraqi partners" urged the team to leave, saying that the current situation would make it impossible for the team to engage in normal, honest engagements with Iraqis or fulfil their mission to deter violence. Many Christian aid agencies have also left Iraq in recent weeks.

Until now the team has been watching the situation in Iraq from Amman, Jordan.

However CPT say they may now return, and continue the important work that they started.

CPT recently highlighted large civilian casualties as a result of US military action in Fallujah during the siege. They also produced a report in January documenting widespread abuses of Iraqi prisoners.

Given the special risks to foreigners in the past month as well as concerns of the team's family, friends, and colleagues, members of CPT Iraq issued a statement in preparation for their return.

It said; "CPT Iraq evacuated to Amman on April 14th, at the urging of our Iraqi partners and friends due to the deteriorating conditions within the country. Now, with support from our Iraqi contacts, we are returning to determine whether we can continue our work of witnessing to justice and peace where there is violence.

It continued; "We are aware of the risks both Iraqis and internationals face at this time. However, we are convinced that these risks are not disproportionate to our purposes in returning, nor greater than the risks faced by soldiers, other

armed actors, or fellow human rights workers.

"Iraqi friends and human rights workers have welcomed us as a nonviolent, independent presence. They ask us to tell their stories, since they cannot easily be heard, nor can most flee to a safer country. They ask us to be the eyes and ears recording the abuses of the occupation and the devastating effects of violence. Especially when other international

monitoring bodies have pulled out, our presence provides a vital link between people in North America and Iraq.

"We believe that all life is sacred, regardless of one's country or religion. As a peacemaking team we need to cross boundaries, trust that both soldiers and militia are human beings capable of compassion, and invite them to refuse unjust orders. We need to help preserve what is human in all of us and so offer glimpses of hope in a dark time.

"We reject the use of violent force to save our lives should we be kidnapped or caught in the middle of a violent conflict situation. We also reject violence to punish anyone who harms us, and we ask that there be no retaliation against such a person's relatives or property. We forgive those who consider us to be their enemies. Therefore, any response should be in the form of rehabilitation rather than in the spirit of revenge.

"We hope that in loving both friends and enemies and by intervening nonviolently to aid those who are systematically oppressed, we can contribute in some small way to transforming this volatile situation."

The statement was signed by Matthew Chandler (Portland, OR) Le Anne Clausen (Mason City, IA) Sheila Provencher (South Bend, IN) Greg Rollins (Surrey, BC) Stewart Vreisinga (Lucknow, ON)

Christian peacemakers return to Iraq

-4/5/04

Two members of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) have returned to Iraq to explore conditions for the team's full return.

Stewart Vriesinga and Le Anne Clausen arrived back in Iraq on 3rd May and will now consult with Iraqi and international human rights workers, religious leaders, and other Iraqi community representatives to determine current priorities for CPT's violence-reduction work, and the ability of the team to operate under current conditions.

Additional team members in Amman are prepared to enter Iraq if circumstances allow, but have said that if they are kidnapped or caught in the middle of a violent conflict situation they do not wish violence to be used to punish the perpetrators, and have asked that there be no retaliation.

After maintaining an almost continuous presence in Iraq from October 2002, CPT left Baghdad after advice from Iraqi colleagues.

The "extremely aggressive" actions of the U.S. and Coalition Forces throughout Iraq and especially in Fallujah created widespread suspicion and fear which CPT said put all internationals at risk.

CPT's "most trusted Iraqi partners" urged the team to leave, saying that the current situation would make it impossible for the team to engage in normal, honest engagements with Iraqis or fulfil their mission to deter violence. Many Christian aid agencies have also left Iraq in recent weeks.

Until now the team has been watching the situation in Iraq from Amman, Jordan.

However CPT say they may now return, and continue the important work that they started.

CPT recently highlighted large civilian casualties as a result of US military action in Fallujah during the siege. They also produced a report in January documenting widespread abuses of Iraqi prisoners.

Given the special risks to foreigners in the past month as well as concerns of the team's family, friends, and colleagues, members of CPT Iraq issued a statement in preparation for their return.

It said; "CPT Iraq evacuated to Amman on April 14th, at the urging of our Iraqi partners and friends due to the deteriorating conditions within the country. Now, with support from our Iraqi contacts, we are returning to determine whether we can continue our work of witnessing to justice and peace where there is violence.

It continued; "We are aware of the risks both Iraqis and internationals face at this time. However, we are convinced that these risks are not disproportionate to our purposes in returning, nor greater than the risks faced by soldiers, other

armed actors, or fellow human rights workers.

"Iraqi friends and human rights workers have welcomed us as a nonviolent, independent presence. They ask us to tell their stories, since they cannot easily be heard, nor can most flee to a safer country. They ask us to be the eyes and ears recording the abuses of the occupation and the devastating effects of violence. Especially when other international

monitoring bodies have pulled out, our presence provides a vital link between people in North America and Iraq.

"We believe that all life is sacred, regardless of one's country or religion. As a peacemaking team we need to cross boundaries, trust that both soldiers and militia are human beings capable of compassion, and invite them to refuse unjust orders. We need to help preserve what is human in all of us and so offer glimpses of hope in a dark time.

"We reject the use of violent force to save our lives should we be kidnapped or caught in the middle of a violent conflict situation. We also reject violence to punish anyone who harms us, and we ask that there be no retaliation against such a person's relatives or property. We forgive those who consider us to be their enemies. Therefore, any response should be in the form of rehabilitation rather than in the spirit of revenge.

"We hope that in loving both friends and enemies and by intervening nonviolently to aid those who are systematically oppressed, we can contribute in some small way to transforming this volatile situation."

The statement was signed by Matthew Chandler (Portland, OR) Le Anne Clausen (Mason City, IA) Sheila Provencher (South Bend, IN) Greg Rollins (Surrey, BC) Stewart Vreisinga (Lucknow, ON)

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