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Archbishop of Canterbury speaks out on Sudanese bombing of civilian centres

Posted on: January 17, 2001 11:24 AM
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The close monitoring in East Africa of all government bombing incidents in Southern Sudan indicates that, despite the denial of the Sudanese government, the bombing of civilian centres continues.

I learn with a sense of distress that the Episcopal Church Cathedral in Lui, Equatoria Province was destroyed by an aerial bombing attack on 29th December 2000. Lui, and the nearby densely populated centre of Kotibe, have been repeatedly bombed during recent years, causing damage and loss of life, and certainly causing terror amongst the civilian population. Lui is a renowned centre in the history of the Episcopal Church in the Sudan. It has always been a centre of religious life, of education and health care.

The destruction of a fine permanent church, prized by the local community, is a cause for concern by all those who love the troubled land of Sudan. But what distresses me most is that this highlights the continued targeting of undoubted civilian centres by the government of Sudan. When such a centre is consistently targeted it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the intention is to harm and terrorise the civilian population.

I urge the President of Sudan and his government to state clearly that the armed forces will not target civilian centres of population, but only legitimate military targets, and then to abide transparently by this commitment.

Sudanese Foreign Minister Dr Mustafa Ismail comments that the Sudanese airforce would not be deterred by the SPLA using civilians as a "human shield. This further disturbs me. Whilst there are, no doubt, cases where the Sudanese People Liberation Army uses the civilian population as a shield, my fear is that the Foreign Minister's words may obscure the fact that peaceful civilian towns and villages are being attacked.

My deep concern is for Sudan and all its people as well as to dialogue and negotiation. It is in that spirit that I have been willing to talk to leaders from all parts of the Sudanese political and religious spectrum.

However, at this point I must protest at the continuing, and illegal, attacks on your own citizens living in various towns and villages of the South and of the Nuba Mountains. The destruction of the Fraser Memorial Cathedral in Lui is but one example of what now appears to be a consistent pattern in the activities of the Sudanese airforce.

More than this, my heartfelt desire is to see clear signs in the months ahead of a momentum for peace. The government of Sudan has a special responsibility to take the lead in this. The strict limitation of military action to military targets would be a significant step in building trust and preparing the way for a cease-fire and substantive talks on the future of the Sudanese state and the Sudanese people.

I count myself a friend of all the Sudanese people and long to see them able to live together in peace and prosperity. I will always work to that end. It is my love for the Sudan which provokes me to speak out on this occasion.