American bishop writes to Colin Powell over Sudan crisis

 In a letter to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, the Chairman of the Catholic Bishops' Committee on International Policy said the United States must exercise even more leadership to prevent a worsening of the crisis in Sudan. Bishop John H Ricard, SSJ, asked for a meeting with Secretary Powell and urged the United States to take a series of steps to alleviate what has been called the "worst humanitarian crisis in the world." The bishop recently completed a fact-finding trip to Sudan, accompanied by Ken Hackett, President of Catholic Relief Services, and Fr Michael Perry, OFM, Policy Advisor on Africa for the Department of Social Development and World Peace, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The officials visited refugee camps in Darfur, consulted with the bishops of Sudan, met with Sudanese government officials, and sought to identify actions the Government of Sudan, the United States and the international community might undertake in response to the crisis. Bishop Ricard said the visit persuaded him that the Sudanese government only responds to strong and continuing pressure. "They make promises but I saw few results on the ground," he wrote. Noting that as many as 50,000 people have died and more than 250,000 others face an uncertain fate, the bishop said the United States, together with European countries and the United Nations, should coordinate strategies to move humanitarian supplies to the areas where the need is greatest. He also called for the immediate release of $95 million in aid recently approved by Congress and said the Administration should work with Congress in defining and funding remaining humanitarian needs. In the letter, Bishop Richard recommended that the United States work closely with the UN Security Council and the UN Human Rights Commission for the immediate deployment of human rights monitors, and that the President appoint a Special Envoy to bring the full weight of US diplomacy to bear on the situation. Bishop Ricard said the United States and the international community must continue to insist that the Government in Khartoum: --allow for unfettered access of relief efforts in all areas of Darfur and fully cooperate with the international donor community to ensure rapid delivery and protection for relief workers. --put an immediate end to aerial and ground attacks on civilian targets by its own armed forces and the Janjaweed and other armed militias it has employed in its fight against rebel forces in Darfur. --accept primary responsibility for safeguarding the rights and dignity of its citizens. "Failure of the Government to protect its citizens, its participation in the wholesale violence exacted on its people, and its unwillingness or inability to rein in the Janjaweed and other armed militias in the region of Darfur requires that the international community take steps to ensure the protection of unarmed and innocent civilians in Darfur," the Bishop said. "To this end, the international community should be prepared to provide the African Union with logistical, financial and political support as it conducts its mission of verification of the ceasefire agreements." Bishop Ricard told Secretary Powell that the Bishops have called on US Catholics to pray for a resolution of the crisis in Sudan and to participate in a special collection on Sunday, August 22 (or other convenient date), the funds from which will be administered by Catholic Relief Services for humanitarian assistance to the people of Sudan. "The US and the world must build on what is already being done and take stronger action to avert this ongoing human tragedy and moral crisis," he said. Source: US Catholic Bishops Conference

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