Negotiators in Kenya were about to put finishing touches on peace accords ending two decades of civil war in southern Sudan. But in recent months pro-government militias have razed scores of villages, raping and looting in their drive to rout two rebel groups in the western Darfur region.
It is a campaign widely described as ethnic cleansing of mostly black African Muslims and some Christians in Darfur. An armed Arab Muslim militia, on horses and camels, has forced 110,000 people to take up refuge at makeshift camps in neighboring Chad. There are also an estimated 700,000 internally displaced people throughout the region.
Although in the minority, Christians are among the thousands of terrified Sudanese driven from their homes. Church sources in Sudan told Christianity Today that most of these Christians had previously fled to Darfur from the south. Christians and animists there have been engulfed in war with the Muslim-led government since 1983.
The largest communion present in Darfur is the Roman Catholic Church, with 143,000 adherents. People also belong to the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, the Sudan Pentecostal Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, and the Episcopal Church of the Sudan.
"No harassment of church leaders or personnel has yet been reported," one source said. The source acknowledged, however, that "the food, water and health situation is worsening [each] day."
The crisis in Darfur, a region prone to clashes between Arab nomads and African pastoral tribes for generations, has set off alarms in the relief and development community.
Roger Winter, assistant administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, testified to a U.S. House of Representatives committee on March 11 that the "war in Darfur ...1