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"This needs to stop. Now."

International | A tour of war-torn African nations and a plea for a new foreign policy that makes peace a priority

Issue: "Bush's tax-cut plan," March 10, 2001

Editor's note: In January, Frank Wolf, a U.S. congressman from Virginia, visited four African nations torn by war and atrocity. Following are excerpts from his trip report, which may be read in its entirety on the congressman's website (www.house.gov/wolf/). Life in many parts of Africa is not easy. Most of the countries I have visited are some of the poorest in the world. Death, famine, disease, and pain are a constant, as millions struggle just to survive another day. A recent report by the United Nations says that 180 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are undernourished. Some children go days without a meal. AIDS is reaching epidemic proportions. Seventy percent of the world's AIDS cases are in Africa, where more than 16,000 people a day are being infected. There are 16 African countries where more than 10 percent of the adult population is infected with AIDS. People in many of these countries desperately need an end to the years of civil strife, terrorism, and brutality that they endure on a daily basis. Babies are dying of starvation. Children are being captured and sold into slavery. Women are being raped. This needs to stop. Now. I am motivated by my faith. Scripture makes it clear to me that there is an obligation to speak out on behalf of those being persecuted. Ecclesiastes 4:1 says, "Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed-and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors-and they have no comforter." Throughout my trip, the constant refrain I heard was that the United States just needed to show it cared. No one asked for American troops to be deployed. They just want America to send a signal that it will begin to focus on the plight of Africa before another generation of young people is lost to civil war, famine, disease, and AIDS. The Congo is a ticking time bomb. Since 1998, soldiers from perhaps as many as nine African nations have been battling in the Congo. Today, six nations-Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Angola, Zimbabwe, and Namibia-have troops there. The war is often called Africa's First World War and its ingredients are a volatile mix of social upheaval, economic insecurity, power, greed, and revenge. While there is no clear-cut solution to the ongoing crisis, one thing is apparent: The toll on human life has been horrific. The war has caused 1.7 million deaths and the displacement of more than 1.1 million people. Only a fraction of those deaths can be attributed to acts of violence. A large number are due to the collapse of the nation's health infrastructure. Clinics have been looted or destroyed. Women live in fear. Soldiers-no matter to whom they owe their allegiance-often treat them as prey. I heard horrific stories of rape, abuse, and torture. Women are being raped in front of their husbands and children. One woman had her hands cut off after being raped; she now has a child she cannot care for. We were told that just two days before I arrived in Bukavu, a woman was raped in the marketplace at 10 a.m. and no one intervened. Priests are targets, too. At least six have been killed in eastern Congo since 1998. In Rwanda, over the course of 100 days in the spring of 1994, more than 800,000 Tutsis-and moderate Hutus-were systematically murdered as part of an ethnic genocide conducted by extremist ethnic Hutus who were in control of the government. Amazingly, the world stood by and watched. While the genocide is now over, the memory is still fresh. The first place I visited in Rwanda was the Murambi Technical School. More than 50,000 people were slaughtered in the villages near the school during the genocide. Inside 18 of the school's classrooms are the twisted skeletons of those massacred. Exhumed from mass graves, they rest on wooden tables. Fear is frozen on their faces. Some are missing limbs, obviously hacked off during the brutal savagery. Others have arms over their heads, trying to protect themselves from their killers. One room is filled with hundreds of skulls. No one was spared. Infants. Young children. Women. Men. All hacked to death with machetes. The killing was not just carried out by soldiers. It was done by mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters. Six-year-olds killed 6-year-olds. Neighbors killed neighbors. It was reported that even local clergy took part in the massacre. The killing was initiated by the government in an effort to eliminate the "cockroaches," Hutu slang for their ethnic enemy Tutsis. The genocide that nearly wiped out an entire ethnic group also devastated the country's economy. Surprisingly, the country got back on its feet in an incredibly short period of time, and until last year had enjoyed remarkable growth. The reconciliation process in Rwanda is moving forward. The long-standing hatred between ethnic groups has somewhat subsided, and there are intermarriages again between Tutsis and Hutus. Nevertheless, major hurdles have yet to be crossed. More than 130,000 Hutus sit in jail waiting to be tried for their crimes. The process has been painfully slow. In order for the healing and reconciliation to be complete, there must be justice. The last leg of my trip was to the town of Yei in southern Sudan. More people have died in Sudan than in Kosovo, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Somalia combined. Most of the dead are civilians-women and children-who died from starvation and disease. I wanted to visit Yei because the Khartoum government last November committed one of the most heinous acts of violence in the war, bombing a busy marketplace in the middle of the afternoon. Nineteen people were killed and 52 injured when 14 bombs were rolled out of the back of a Soviet-made Antonov plane on Nov. 20, 2000. No one was spared. Children. Women. Young. Old. I have seen a video that was taken minutes after the bombing. The marketplace was packed. People had nowhere to hide. Some of those killed had their limbs blown off. Women and children were screaming as they witnessed the carnage. Yei is hundreds of miles from the front lines. It is not a military target, yet almost on a daily basis-and often several times a day-a high-altitude Antonov bomber passes over the town. People are terrified by the bombing runs. You can see it in their eyes, hear it in their voices. Ask anyone what concerns them most and the universal refrain is "the Antonov bomber." No one knows where the bombs are being dropped because the plane is beyond eyesight. Sometimes the planes just fly overhead to play mind games with the residents of the town. Other times, homemade bombs are rolled out the back of the plane, randomly falling from the sky. They have hit homes, churches, hospitals. Some of the bombs are 55-gallon oil drums packed with dynamite and nails. The planes fly morning, noon, and night. An Antonov flew over the town the last morning (Jan. 13) I was in Yei. Panic immediately set in. The psychological warfare is taking its toll. People are afraid to build houses because they may be bombed the next day. Why try to raise a crop when it could be destroyed before it is harvested? Peddlers have dug foxholes under their tables in the marketplace so if a plane flies over they can jump into the hole and pray that the bombs fall somewhere else. The bombing runs have become an obstacle to everyday life in Yei and throughout southern Sudan. The actions of the Khartoum government cannot be tolerated any longer. It is a brutal, repressive regime. Government-sponsored militias torch houses, loot property, and rape and murder with impunity. Civilian food production and supply lines are attacked. Livestock is destroyed. International relief is obstructed. In 1998, this strategy caused a famine in southern Sudan that endangered millions and killed tens of thousands. There should be a major effort on the part of the United States, the United Nations, and the European Union to bring an end to the war in Sudan. Peace has to be a priority of the Bush administration. Sudan is a litmus test for those who care about human rights, about civil rights, about religious persecution, and about hunger. It should be viewed in terms of this decade's "South Africa." The same amount of time, energy, and resources should be put into ending the war in Sudan that was put into bringing democracy to South Africa. Our allies in the region should be pressured to become more engaged. Egypt, for example, has tremendous influence over the Khartoum regime. The United States has given more than $45 billion in foreign aid to Egypt since the Camp David Accords were signed in 1978. We should use that leverage. The Egyptians should not be sitting by silently. The Bush administration and the Congress have a great opportunity to make a real difference in Africa. We can help provide hope and opportunity to these people who have suffered so much, particularly in southern Sudan and Central Africa. More than 4 million people have died in Sudan and in the Congo. Four million. The number is staggering. We cannot allow such suffering to continue.

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