- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

A Washington human rights group is trying to get President Bush to pay more attention to beleaguered Christians in war-torn Sudan by using pressure from people in his hometown.
An "open letter to the government of Sudan," released today by the Ministerial Alliance of Midland, Texas, includes signatures from 50 local officials including the mayor and nearly the entire City Council in the town where Mr. Bush spent most of his first 40 years. The letter was drafted by the Washington-based Center for Religious Freedom.
"There are people in our group who are personal friends with President Bush," said Deborah Fikes, director of the Midland Alliance for a New Sudan. "We know he cares about Sudan. He has a lot of other things demanding his attention now, but we know he has compassion on that country."
Residents in Midland, population 96,000, had their interest in Sudan piqued in November 2001, when it was the host city for the International Day for the Persecuted Church.
After Carolyn Cox, a British human rights advocate, spoke at the Midland Convention Center along with Francis Bok, a former Sudanese slave, residents said they wanted to do something more.
Midland City Council member Scott Dufford also credited several Christian mission organizations which have provided videos of starving Christian refugees and remains of human bodies after bombing raids by the Khartoum-based government with raising awareness.
"It's kind of appalling what's happening there," Mr. Dufford said. "It makes us all sick. The government there has called for a jihad against anyone there who is not a Muslim. I think that we as Christians need to take a stand against these acts of atrocity."
Several local oil executives also signed the letter.
"Our community is an oil-based community," Mrs. Fikes said. "We sit on the second-largest reservoir in America, behind Prudhoe Bay. Here are a group of Christians with the same natural resources under their feet but they are being wiped out by the National Islamic Front [Sudans ruling party] unless someone does something."
The letter, which will be presented to the State Department and to the Sudanese Embassy, reminds the Sudanese government of the Sudan Peace Act, signed into law in October.
The act states that nearly 2 million black, non-Muslim civilians have died in southern Sudan since 1983 as a result of genocidal acts by the Khartoum government.
It authorizes $300 million in humanitarian aid to southern Sudan over the next three years and requires Mr. Bush to certify every six months that Khartoum and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army are negotiating in good faith.
The administration's next report on Sudan is due April 21 from the State Department's war crimes office.
But on Jan. 27, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the atrocities were continuing.
"In our eyes, the government of Sudan is not negotiating in good faith, because they have continued to violate the cease-fire agreement they've signed," said Faith McDonnell, who directs the Sudan project for the Institute of Religion and Democracy in Washington. "Midland is a largely Christian community and they understand much of the aggression is being committed against Christians."
Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom, said it is clear U.S. officials are distracted by the possibility of war with Iraq.
"This letter is meant to warn Khartoum that the U.S. has not lost interest," she said, "that we will be back to hold them accountable, that we will not be satisfied with their mere sitting at the peace table, that we will not be satisfied until just peace is concluded."

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