African churches demand that Sudan allow humanitarian aid

By Ecumenical News International
March 27, 2009

Leaders of the All Africa Conference of Churches have demanded the Sudanese government "allow uninterrupted humanitarian assistance" in the country following the expulsion of 13 international aid agencies from Sudan's troubled western Darfur province - writes Fredrick Nzwili.

"We are deeply worried about the consequences of the recent expulsion of humanitarian aid organizations from Darfur, organizations that have been providing life-saving assistance to the peoples of Sudan," the African church grouping's main governing body, its general committee, said in a 26 March 2009 statement.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir ordered the agencies out of his country after the Hague-based International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir for crimes against humanity committed in Darfur, where the Janjaweed, a pro-government Arab militia, has been accused of atrocities.

Sudan has alleged, although without providing evidence, that some of the aid agencies harmed its security by providing information to the ICC, the Agence France-Presse news agency reported.

The AACC appealed to Sudan to "allow uninterrupted humanitarian assistance to reach all suffering people in Darfur; and, the international community to avail the necessary resources".

The U.N. estimates that since 2003 nearly 300 000 people have died in Darfur, a region the size of France.

The African church grouping urged the Sudanese government, "to assume full responsibility to protect its citizens regardless of origin, religion or political affiliation, and, equally, all the parties in the Darfur conflict to restrain from all forms of violence and to respect the human rights and dignity of all people in Sudan".

The AACC said it was concerned that the arrest warrant "further distracts" from the implementation of a 2005 peace agreement, which ended a separate two-decade-long civil war in Sudan. This conflict pitted the predominately Islamic government in the north against the population in the country's southern region, who are mostly Christians or follow traditional African religions.

The AACC was established in 1963 in Kampala and has a membership of more than 130 mainly Anglican and Protestant churches, as well as and 32 associate councils of churches in 39 countries, and includes five African independent churches.

Its general secretary, the Rev André Karamanga, said the church grouping was also monitoring a political crisis in Madagascar, which peaked on 17 March after President Marc Ravalomanana resigned following a campaign by opposition leader Andry Rajoelina to force him out of office.

Supporters of Ravalomanana have been staging mass protests against the subsequent 24 March installation of Rajoelina as president.

"Given the uncertainties facing the country and the fact that the society as well as the church is increasingly becoming divided and polarised … we continue to monitor the situation carefully in order to find a way for ecumenical intervention for lasting peace," Karamanga said in a 24 March statement issued after a closed session of the AACC's general committee.

On 25 March, South Africa said it would support sanctions against Madagascar at a meeting of the Southern African Development Community, which is a grouping of states from the region.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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