African Church leaders lobby British Government to help end LRA crisis in Sudan

March 4, 2009

Anglican church leaders from the Sudan, Uganda and the north eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo have sent a petition to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown appealing for his government's assistance in ending the brutal attacks by the so-called Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

In their letter, the leaders, whose churches have been affected since December 2008 by repeated LRA attacks that have claimed thousands of lives and forced many more to flee their homes, called on the British government "to put diplomatic pressure on the LRA leaders, leaders in Sudan, Uganda and Congo, and leaders of the U.N. peacekeeping missions ... to do more to bring an end to the brutal attacks on unarmed civilians by the LRA, which have seen many Congolese and Sudanese towns swamped with refugees and displaced people since December."

The letter was signed by Archbishop Daniel Deng of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi of the Anglican Church of Uganda, and Bishop George Ande of the Congolese Diocese of Aru.

The leaders also "pleaded for more international assistance for the relief effort in supporting these displaced people -- most of whom are now dependent on ... churches."

Deng appealed to his fellow primates during their February 1-5 meeting in Alexandria, Egypt, saying that the Episcopal Church in Sudan needs "urgent support for the work of relief, rehabilitation and resettlement" and calling on the Anglican Communion "not to abandon the people of Sudan in this time of danger and uncertainty."

The primates responded with a statement that called the atrocities committed by the LRA "an affront to humanity created in the image of God." The LRA attacks "have included killings, child abductions, executions by amputation and decapitation and other unspeakable crimes," the primates' statement added, while appealing for "urgent protection and assistance for the communities affected [and] a comprehensive strategy to bring an end to LRA attacks and achieve reconciliation with justice."

A March 5 release from the Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS) said that the LRA attacks have resulted in new internal and cross-border displacement throughout the region, affecting more than 50,000 people. Whole communities have been attacked in the Sudanese dioceses of Ezo, Yambio, Ibba, Maridi, Mundri and Lui in Western Equatoria, southern Sudan, the ACNS release said, noting that more than 10,000 people have been forced from their villages in Maridi alone.

"More than 50,000 people are displaced in the north eastern region of the Congo, many as refugees fleeing over the Sudanese and Ugandan borders," the release said.

In addition to the recent LRA attacks, Sudan has been devastated by two back-to-back civil wars spanning some 40 years. The official end to the most recent civil war came in January 2005 when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was negotiated between northern and southern government officials with the involvement of international leaders. A separate conflict in Darfur, a remote region of western Sudan where government-backed militias have carried out a program of ethnic cleansing for the past six years, has claimed at least 300,000 lives and displaced as many as a million people from their homes.

According to the news service, Deng commented in the letter that although the LRA attacks "were the most pressing security issue in Southern Sudan at present, other issues of local violence within Sudan are still ongoing and must be tackled within the strategic framework of the Sudanese Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the north and the south, which has been strained of late with the destruction of Abyei in 2008 and worries over the indictment of President Omar al-Bashir and the upcoming elections in 2009."

The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant March 4 for al-Bashir on war crime charges over the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan. On March 3, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, writing in the New York Times, said African leaders should support a bid to arrest the Sudanese president.

"Because the victims in Sudan are African, African leaders should be the staunchest supporters of efforts to see perpetrators brought to account," said the retired Anglican archbishop of Cape Town. "Yet rather than stand by those who have suffered in Darfur, African leaders have so far rallied behind the man responsible for turning that corner of Africa into a graveyard."

According to the ACNS release, Deng returned to Sudan on February 28 following a week in the U.K. during which he attended a two-day workshop on the work of the church in Sudanese development and spent three days in the Diocese of Salisbury, the Episcopal Church of the Sudan's longest-standing overseas partner.

During his visit, Deng challenged the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the U.K. Department for International Development "to assist in finding a 'whole Sudan' solution to the country's current conflicts -- complementing diplomatic pressure on Khartoum [where the northern government is based] with a development program designed to demonstrate maximum 'peace dividend' to the peoples of southern Sudan," the ACNS release said.

"Only when these two approaches are put together will the LRA and other crises be overcome -- this is the message of the primates and this latest petition in particular," the release continued.

The Ugandan government has been engaged in negotiations with the LRA since August 2006 when a landmark truce between the two was signed following peace talks. The government and the rebels signed a ceasefire in January 2008 that stopped short of an all-out peace agreement.

The LRA's grim trademark has been the abduction and forced conscription of children, who have been turned into soldiers and sex slaves. LRA rebel leader Joseph Kony has been indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, in a recent statement, expressed "great sorrow" at the latest widespread violence inflicted on Sudanese communities by the LRA and called on U.S.-based Episcopalians to take action through advocacy and prayer.

The recent attacks "are the latest signal to the world that stronger international action is necessary in order to stop the LRA's reign of violence in the region and to bring the perpetrators to justice," she said.