The plight of the Christian minority in Southern Sudan was raised by the Independent Crossbench Peer, Lord Alton of Liverpool, and the Conservative Peer, Baroness Cox, during a debate in the House of Lords on Monday night. David Alton said "the conflict is entering its deadliest phase" and if the government of Sudan did not end the violence a universal embargo on arms and investment should be instituted. Last September Lord Alton visited the diocese of Torit and saw at first hand the effects the war is having on the lives of ordinary people. He said: "Some two million people have lost their lives in the past 19 years, and between four and five million people have been displaced. In the diocese of Torit churches have been desecrated, there has been forced Islamicisation, the bombing of schools and clinics, and there are children who, whenever they hear a plane approaching overhead, dive for the foxholes that have been provided by British aid agencies protecting them from another bombing raid. The children have even learnt to recognise the difference between the engines of the Russian-made bombers used by the Sudanese government and the aid planes used by the United Nations. "The hatreds clearly run deep and bringing about any kind of reconciliation and dialogue will be an enormously difficult and painstaking task. "We mustn't under-estimate the importance of helping organisations like the SPLA and using the voluntary organisations, the women's movements and others to help create the civil society which will give Sudan the chance of a lasting peace. While he said there had been "a flicker of hope" that talks held in October might lead to a ceasefire, he felt "movements like the SPLA, which, in the course of 19 years has seen the dispossession of so many of its people, will not be hounded into submission. Nor will they find it easy to reach agreement with the government of Sudan if the violence continues while they sit at the conference table. As we are well aware from our experience in Northern Ireland, little progress is possible while bombing and killing persists on a systematic and daily basis." David Alton said he was disappointed by the US-led monitoring team's report on the September 2002 bombing, because of "its lateness as well as its content." He added: "It also needs to be understood that the ceasefire benefits the government of Sudan militarily and they have been using the ceasefire to make military preparations to resume war if the peace process does not go as they wish. I am sorry that Her Majesty's government, in reply to parliamentary Questions that I tabled last year, were unable to counter the many fears in southern Sudan that the sale of the Alenia Marconi radar systems to the government of Sudan will contribute to the accretion of great military strength." "Our failure to turn off the tap of western oil receipts means that we are directly contributing to that process. As the Rev Akio Johnson, Bishop of Torit with whom I travelled when I went into that part of southern Sudan, put it to me, 'Every barrel of oil bought by the west is half full of oil and half full of the blood of our people. You should remember that when you pull your car into garage forecourts.' "
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