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5 December 1998

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 10

The churches should intercede with the international community to stop the slaughter in Southern Sudan, a Roman Catholic bishop told the World Council of Churches, meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, Saturday (5 December).

The Right Rev. Paride Taban, Bishop of Toriti, Sudan, said: "Many friends of Sudan are very keen on relief work. Spending on relief alone is like fattening a cow for slaughter. How long can one be doing relief work without spending time, energy and resources on root causes?

"The suffering people of Sudan hear that the great nations have imposed a no-fly zone on the Iraqi Government of Sadam Hussein to protect the Kurds in Northern Iraq. Our people ask, "Are we not worth human life to be protected from the Sudanese air force by the imposition of a no-fly zone from the 13th to the 14 parallels?

"Recently we heard that the President of Yugoslavia was forced by Europeans and Americans to stop the massacre of the people of Kosovo and to pull out his troops or face the wrath of Nato. This sounds great. And what about us in the Sudan? Can anyone, please, can you tell the Americans and Europeans to do the same thing for us in the Sudan?"

Bishop Taban told delegates and visitors to the WCC's Eighth Assembly that he had recently returned from a visit to the western part of Eastern Equatoria, Southern Sudan. "I witnessed two blitz-style bombing raids carried out by Khartoum," he said.

"The animals provided us with an advance warning facility. Dogs hastened to the bunkers. A pet monkey joined them. Hens and chickens took off in hurried flight to the shade beneath the nearest bushes. Birds stopped singing. A sudden stillness gripped all. We quickly followed those dogs and the monkey to the bunkers. Animals and humans shared a paralysing fear.

"There was no military presence in either of the centres where I witnessed the bombs fall. The recipients are simple, struggling, uninvolved civilians. I saw them as people trying to reconstruct their lives, trying to experience and taste again some of the normality that you and I take for granted.

"They are building schools - their children hunger for knowledge. They construct small chapels - they want to be a community, to be close to God, to live out their hope. They plant food - they want enough to eat.

"The devilish bombs from above continually rip their ambitions apart. The planes from Khartoum come almost daily. Who knows the deep psychological and emotional scars that are on the souls and minds of these innocent people?

"They suffer from chest complaints. They cough and wheeze. "Do these bombs contain chemical, dangerous gases?" they ask me. "Can we have doctors to test us?"

"They feel abandoned. They are alone and frightened, disillusioned and confused. The cry that arises from all this suffering and pain is: "Is there anybody, anywhere, who knows us? Is there anybody, anywhere, who really cares?'"

Bishop Taban, who was preaching at an Africa Day service organised for the Assembly in a Harare stadium by Zimbabwe churches, said that the people of Southern Sudan had asked him to put these challenges to the WCC.

"They told me to speak out here, to be their voice," he said. "They ordered me to do everything I can to stop this senseless war and killing, to stop the suffering. I promised to try, to be their voice and bring their message and cry to the world.

"Can anyone help me, delegates of this great fellowships of Christians from all over the world? Can anyone assist us to bring a lasting and just peace to the people of Sudan, to live in peace as brothers and sisters?

"Let me add that the war in Sudan is not as it is simply portrayed - Christians against Muslims. There are leading Christians and Muslims on both sides of the war. At the heart of the problem is a group of Muslims who prefer to use Islam as an ideology of power, of control and domination."

The bishop said that the people of Sudan needed a voice to speak out on its civil wars, on increasing poverty, urbanisation, international debt, the arms trade, refugees and displaced people, demographic concerns, the oppression of women, the spread of Aids, the survival of slavery in places such as the Sudan, and the education of young Africans.

"Are there anointed voices to proclaim liberty to captives, to set the downtrodden free? There are. They are you and me."

Contact: John Newbury, WCC Press & Information Officer
Press and Information Office, Harare
Tel: +

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 332, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the Assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.