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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 January 2006, 02:46 GMT
Cardinal visits war-torn Darfur
Cardinal Keith O'Brien
Cardinal O'Brien will travel to Darfur and Juba during his visit
The leader of Scotland's Roman Catholics has set off on a 10-day visit to Sudan.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien will travel to Darfur, an area of Sudan described by the UN as suffering "the greatest humanitarian disaster in the world".

The 67-year-old will see how money raised by the church is being spent in a country where tens of thousands of people have been killed since 2003.

He has refused to swap his robes for a flak jacket during the visit.

The Archbishop of Edinburgh will visit Darfur and nearby Juba, Sudan's southern capital, during the visit.

I am not being foolhardy and there is no question of me wearing a flak jacket
Cardinal Keith O'Brien

About two million people have been displaced from their homes since early 2003, when violence escalated in the region already badly affected by civil war.

Arab militias backed by the Sudanese Government were accused of attacking villages in an effort to crush Darfur rebels.

Last year a fragile peace agreement was struck and exiled residents are currently returning to towns and villages.

But the fighting has left many homeless, with too little food to go around, and no ready access to water.

Last year the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) embarked on an aid mission to help people in the region.

'Difficult circumstances'

More than 650,000 was collected from supporters of the church, schools and parishes.

Cardinal O'Brien said he would meet displaced people in their camp as well as visiting schools, medical centres and crop farms which benefited from money sent from Scotland.

"I fully appreciate we are venturing out there in difficult circumstances," he said.

"But we will rely on security on the ground in Darfur, on advice and protection from the aid workers who well know the risks and the area.

"I am not being foolhardy and there is no question of me wearing a flak jacket."

'Remote areas'

Cardinal O'Brien said he would wear white robes and cardinal red to make it clear that he was there on a religious mission.

He added: "In the wake of the Make Poverty History Campaign it is important the people who led it are seen to be following it up."

SCIAF chief executive Paul Chitnis, who was set to join Cardinal O'Brien on the trip, said: "For many years attacks by army militia have left thousands of people homeless and depending on aid.

"This is not a local problem but an international crisis. The cardinal and I will be travelling to remote areas to meet people affected by the violence."

He added: "Scotland became the focus of the world last summer, when the G8 leaders met in Gleneagles and discussed the plight of Africa.

"We hope this visit will remind all those who need reminding that the needs of people in Africa should be the highest priority in 2006."


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