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FAITH UNDER FIRE
Sudan's militant Muslim regime is slaughtering Christians who refuse to convert to Islam, according to the head of an aid group who recently returned from the African nation.
The forced conversions are just one aspect of the Khartoum government's self-declared jihad on the mostly Christian and animist south, Dennis Bennett, executive director of Seattle-based Servant's Heart told WorldNetDaily.
Villagers in several areas of the northeast Upper Nile region say that when women are captured by government forces they are asked: "Are you Christian or Muslim?"
Women who answer "Muslim" are set free, but typically soldiers gang-rape those who answer "Christian" then cut off their breasts and leave them to die as an example for others.
Bennett says these stories are corroborated by witnesses from several tribes in the region. Upon returning to the U.S., he wrote a letter to influential members of Congress and activists.
"After witnessing once again the situation on the ground there," Bennett wrote, "I must ask 'How long will the United States government allow the Government of Sudan to continue its jihad against the Black African Christians of South Sudan?'"
Backed by Muslim clerics, the National Islamic Front regime in the Arab and Muslim north declared a jihad, or holy war, on the south in 1989. Since 1983, an estimated 2 million people have died from war and related famine. About 4.5 million have become refugees.
Sudan's holy war against the south was reaffirmed in October by First Vice President Ali Osman Taha.
"The jihad is our way, and we will not abandon it and will keep its banner high," he said to a brigade of mujahedin fighters heading for the war front, according to Sudan's official SUNA news agency. "We will never sell out our faith and will never betray the oath to our martyrs."
The U.S. House of Representatives adopted a resolution finding that Khartoum is "systematically committing genocide," but current legislation that would impose sanctions has been stalled. The Sudan Peace Act is opposed by both the White House and Wall Street.
Sanctions in the House version of the bill target oil revenues that Khartoum is using to fuel its war effort. Bennett, with 20 years experience in international risk management and banking, said he was the first to probe the link between oil and jihad that is now documented and publicized by human rights groups. His research began in 1996 when he asked: If you're the government of Sudan and you're broke, how are you paying for your war?
In his letter urging action by the U.S., he points out that Sudan's military continues to decorate and promote known war criminals such as Commander Taib Musba, who in the mid-1980s killed an estimated 15,000 unarmed, civilian, ethnic Uduk Christians.
In 1986, Musba entered the Uduk tribal capital of Chali and declared to its Christians: "You are all going to convert from Christianity to Islam today, because here is what's going to happen to you if you don't."
Musba then killed five church leaders in front of the gathered villagers. When they refused to convert, he began killing unarmed men, women and children. Some were herded at gunpoint into a hut then run over by a 50-ton, Soviet-made tank.
He also herded groups of about a dozen people into a hut, where he asked the first person "Do you renounce Jesus Christ?" Anyone who refused was killed by a three-inch nail driven into the top of the head.
The U.N. high commissioner for refugees granted the Uduks international refugee status in 1992 after investigating the atrocities, but almost as many died during the six years they waited for the declaration.
Islam also is forced on Sudanese in the Muslim north. Security police in Khartoum are pursuing a local convert to Christianity who went into hiding three weeks ago to escape arrest and possible death, the Compass Direct news service reports. Aladin Omer Agabni Mohammed, who left Islam 11 years ago to become a Christian, is subject to the death penalty under Sudanese criminal law for "apostasy." According to a church leader, two other converts face a similar situation.
Bennett says that in addition to the more immediate, readily apparent atrocities taking place, there is a slower, less perceptive persecution that is equally deadly.
Forced starvation is one of the primary tools of the Khartoum regime, he says. When government forces attack a Christian village, they kill everyone they catch, but those who flee lose everything necessary for survival.
"The government comes in and burns the crops, burns grain stored if there was any excess, burns houses down," Bennett said. "Now you have only the clothes on your back, no tools, no cooking pots, no buckets for water, and you have to run two days through the bush in 115-degree temperatures in order to escape."
In the arid wilderness, escapees try to survive on tree leaves and stagnant, dysentery-infested water. If a women is breastfeeding, her milk dries up, Bennett said, and the baby starts dying. Small children, just weaned, also start dying.
"But all the family has to do is change their name to Muhammad or Ramadan, convert to Islam and walk the two days back to the government of Sudan who will care for them," he said.
Last year, the government of Sudan burned all the crops in the area where Bennett's group works.
"There wasn't anything to harvest," he said. "Literally we saw people eating roots and tree leaves. It's like eating the nutritional properties of cardboard. It's enough to put something in your stomach but not enough to feed you."
A food drop came from the U.N. World Food Program, he said, "but they never came in to do an assessment; they just dropped it from the air."
As the "hungry season" approaches – the rainy period of June, July and early August – emergency food supplies become critical. Servant's Heart believes it will need to feed 50,000 people in its area during that time.
Slavery as tool of terror
Slavery is another tool of the National Islamic Front regime, though Bennett says it is not known in the northeast Upper Nile region, mainly because of lack of transportation.
Western Bahr El Ghazal is one location where it persists because the railroad line allows captured men, women and children to be taken to slave markets in the north.
"If you want to end systematic slavery, blow up the train line and keep it blown up," Bennett said.
The ongoing controversy surrounding slave redemption – the practice of buying freedom promoted by some humanitarian groups – arose again in the past week when the Irish Times and Washington Post published exposes acknowledging the existence of slavery in Sudan but alleging that fake slave redemption is taking place.
Bennett respects the work of groups buying back the slaves, but he believes it is inevitable that some will be conned. Engaging in the practice is a matter of individual conscience, he says.
"Anytime you have tens of thousands of American dollars coming into an area you've got potential problems of corruption," Bennett said.
He says the "jury is still out" on whether it fuels the market by increasing demand.
"Slave-taking would still be happening even if nobody was buying back slaves," he said. "Maybe not to the full extent."
But he believes it's important to keep in mind that taking slaves is "just one more facet of the jihad against the civilian population" in southern Sudan. The methods may vary in different parts of the country, but the aim is the same.
"In the Uduk tribe, Taib Musba drove three-inch nails into people's heads," he said. "In northeast Upper Nile, they are gang-raping women and cutting off their breasts; in western Bahr El Ghazal, they are capturing women and selling them as slaves."
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