WASHINGTON -- John C. Danforth, a minister and former senator, was appointed by President Bush to look for a way to end the long-running civil war in Sudan, which has grabbed the attention of Christian groups and oil companies in the West.
"It's important to America, important to the world to bring some sanity to the Sudan," Bush said Thursday during a Rose Garden ceremony. "For nearly two decades, the government of Sudan has waged a brutal and shameful war against its own people."
More than 2 million people have died since 1983 in the fighting and in famines and displacement of populations the war has caused in Africa's largest country.
The conflict is between black southerners, most of whom follow traditional African beliefs or Christianity, and the ethnic Arab-dominated Islamic-led central government in the north. An extension of earlier conflicts, its original goal was to win autonomy and more economic and political rights for southern Sudan.
In the United States, prominent Christians, black leaders and civil rights advocates have pressured Bush to intervene.
Bush's first response was to declare Sudan "a disaster area for human rights" and appoint his foreign aid chief, Andrew Natsios, as humanitarian envoy to supervise aid efforts.
In naming Danforth as a peace envoy, Bush said he wanted to go beyond humanitarian efforts and try to end the war.
"President Bush has asked me to determine if there is anything useful the U.S. can do to help end the misery in Sudan, in addition to what we are already doing on the humanitarian side," said Danforth, an Episcopal priest who represented Missouri in the Senate. "Even to ask that question is a powerful statement by the president of the values of our country."
On Capitol Hill, religious conservatives embraced Bush's choice. Rep. J.C. Watts, chairman of the House Republican Conference, said Danforth "will bring diplomatic skill and a respected gift for conciliation as he seeks to encourage peace in a war-torn region of the world forgotten by some and ignored by many.