Leading Article: A lost opportunity to protest in Sudan

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The Independent Online
THE Archbishop of Canterbury's original decision to visit Sudan was enlightened. The people of a country torn by protracted civil war, ostracised by Western governments and facing famine later this year need contact with outsiders. As head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, Dr George Carey recognised that his pastoral duties extend beyond these shores.

The visit was always likely to be controversial. Dr Carey could hardly have travelled to Sudan without protesting at the appalling living conditions of refugees from the partly Christian south confined in northern camps around Khartoum. Indeed, it was his intention to visit some of these camps during his two-day stay in the capital. Nor could he have failed to draw attention to atrocities committed by the Islamic government forces in villages in the south.

But Dr Carey also had to be careful to show himself to be a peace- maker rather than a Christian banging the drum against Islam. He must have been aware of post- colonial sensibilities in a country that remains suspicious of Britain. Yet he seems not to have taken such factors sufficiently into account in the delicate run-up to his trip.

In now snubbing the Sudanese government by his decision not to visit Khartoum, he has thrown himself open to accusations of sectarianism. Since he will now visit only the rebel south, his words will carry less weight within Sudan as a whole. Beleaguered southerners living in the north and their Muslim neighbours will hear little of his message. Sudan's Islamic government will find further fuel for its view that Christianity is a subversive force in the country.

The Anglican primate would have been wiser to have followed the example of Pope John Paul II, who visited Sudan in February and publicly lambasted President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir about human rights. Later, at a Mass in Khartoum attended by 200,000 people, he made a plea for religious tolerance that was likened in its passion to speeches he made in Poland during the Communist era.

Dr Carey rightly recognised that the Sudanese regime wanted to restrict his visit, notably by insisting at the last minute that he come as a guest of the government. In such conditions he would not have been as free as he wished to visit refugee camps. Yet, despite all efforts to control him, he would surely have been able, like the Pope, to highlight the wrongs being perpetrated by the Sudanese government. Instead he has reduced the potential scope of his visit and forfeited a rare chance to tell the Sudanese president some painful home truths.