Mother and child wait at a church-run feeding centre in April in Jebel Aulia displaced persons camp outside Khartoum, Sudan.
A group of Canadian church leaders, including Anglican representative Alice Jean (A.J.) Finlay, called for an end to the conflict in Sudan and a moratorium on oil development there, after a week-long trip in April to the war-ravaged southern area of the African nation.
“It (oil exploration) is a major issue for the World Council of Churches and for the church representatives from the Sudan who are involved there,” Mrs. Finlay told an Ottawa news conference on April 10, one day after the group’s return to Canada. Mrs. Finlay is a member of the World Council of Churches central committee.
Calgary-based Talisman Energy Inc. conducts oil drilling in the Sudan, among other areas in the world. Church and social-justice advocates have repeatedly called upon Talisman to pull out of the Sudan, saying that oil revenues are fuelling the aggressive tactics of the National Islamic Front government.
The ecumenical group also called upon the Canadian government to “take high-level diplomatic and practical initiatives” to bring about “a speedy end to a vicious and brutal civil war.” It said that the current civil war, which began in 1983, has killed two million people and displaced more than four million in Africa’s largest country.
“The systematic bombings, attacks on civilian targets, forced displacement of civilian populations, mass starvation and other acts of terrorism that have been well documented by human rights agencies require urgent action by the international community,” the group said in its statement.
The group was denied permission by the Sudanese government to visit the capital of Khartoum, but was invited by the Sudan and New Sudan Councils of Churches to travel to the south and visit refugee camps and communities affected by the conflict. Sudan’s government is waging war against rebels in the south who follow Christian or animist religions. Animism is the belief that plants, inanimate objects and natural phenomena have living souls.
“We listened to accounts of slaughter and burnings from people who had fled for their lives days earlier. Some displaced persons told us, “They (the government) want our land without us. Sudanese church leaders ? described the tactics of the Khartoum government as ‘genocidal,'” said the statement.
Mrs. Finlay said that in one village, a group of about 30 people, representing four villages, told of random attacks from helicopters, foot soldiers and tanks. “When we asked how many were dead, the chiefs began to name them and as they did this, they would pick up little sticks or nuts from the ground nearby, name the individual and set them down on the ground. It was almost a sacramental moment,” she said.
The group included Mrs. Finlay, Rev. Arthur Van Seters, former moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada; Janet Somerville, general secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches, Rev. William Phipps, former moderator of the United Church of Canada and Bishop Donald Theriault, representing the Catholic Conference of Bishops.
The group first traveled to Nairobi before going to the Sudan. In northern Kenya, after briefings from Canadian diplomats and several church and other organizations, the group went to northern Kenya and visited a major humanitarian relief program run by the United Nations and Operation Lifeline Sudan.