FROM A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT CATHOLICS in Britain have sent more than £15,000 to help the starving masses of Nigeria and Biafra, says the Relief and Refugee Committee of the Catholic Women's League.
This news follows the improved relations between the Vatican and the Federal Nigerian Government with the suspension of mercy flights by Caritas Interncttionalis into Biafra.
The flights were suspended because pilots refused to take the risk of being shot down.
At the opening of the Addis Ababa peace talks between Federal and Biafran leaders on Monday Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia appealed to both sides to put personal differences aside and solve the conflict. "You cannot afford to fail in this task," he declared.
But the talks began with Lieut.-Colonel Ojukwu, the Biafran leader. rejecting the idea of renunciation of Biafran sovereignty, which the Federal Government has insisted upon.
FRENCH ACCUSED Earlier the situation was not helped by the French Cabinet's call for recognition of Biafra.
In Lagos Federal leaders accused the French Govern ment of prejudicing prospects of a peaceful settlement in the war.
In America President Johnson stated' that the United States would undertake a major relief effort in Nigeria and Biafra as soon as the two sides settled their political differences. The U.S. has so far gathered supplies worth nearly £3 million.
The position of the Church in the conflict is difficult. It is believed that if it becomes too identified with the "rebel forces," then after the war all European Catholic mission aries may be expelled and reprisals could be made against Catholic schools, priests. teachers and nuns.
Chief Enahoro, Federal Commissioner for Information.
who himself is a Catholic, has alleged that the Pope appeared to be more a partisan of the Biafrans than the Nigerians who were trying to "keep the nation one."
Another member of the Federal Government. Mr. Taka, Commissioner for Transport, was especially offended by the Pope's appeal for compassion in the Nigeria-Biafran war zone. He said: "I was brought up a Catholic. but you just better call me a Christian now."
Because so many Biafrans are Catholics-1,600,000 of a total of 2,400,000 the Church is placed in a very invidious position. The pro-Biafra state ments from such prominent churchmen as Cardinal Heenan prompted a Nigerian bishop to make a personal protest to the Pope.
The Nigerian Government has also become peeved by requests from the 'Vatican and German, British and American diplomats to suspend military operations to allow a "mercy corridor" through which Red Cross and Church aid could be taken.
The Vatican is not the only organisation to fall out with the Nigerians. Bodies like the International Red Cross. Oxfam and li,fisereor (the German Relief Organisation) have also been criticised for "their interfering."
"SOLE CONCERN" In the case of Caritas Internationalis the position is equally difficult. although it stresses in its report on the July mercy flights to Biafra that "it does not pass judgement as to the. right or wrong of the war." Its sole concern, as a Church-related organisation, is to relieve human suffering, wherever and in whatever form it exists.
The July report, . which covers the period up to the suspension of the flights, states that the Biafrains gave the three victims of a mercy-flight plane which crashed a military funeral. The men were buried at the Catholic mission near. the airport at 1.111.
Another report on the situation comes from the religious brothers of Uturu, Okigwe, in Biafra. In a letter to Lord Brockway. who is chairman of the Committee for Peace in Nigeria-which includes Catholic representatives-they say that the conflict is essentially a tribal war and not a civil war or rebellion.
In peacetime. says the 'letter, their establishment in Uturu is a seminary for training priests but because of the famine and sickness they have turned it into a hospital for refugees. It goes on to say: "In the last four days we have buried 12 children. In our compound we arc keeping alive 330 others."
DOCTORS PLYING OUT From Ireland comes news that two doctors along with a medical team of four are flying out to Biafra. Both the men, Mr. John Hickey and Dr. Joseph Barnes, have worked in Nigeria before with Medical Missionaries.
At a Press conference at the Irish Red Cross centre in Dublin it was stated that 500,000 refugees in 650 reception centres are badly in need of medical assistance.
In Essen. the West German Catholic charity Getnany Caritas has collected more than £40.000 to relieve starvation in Biafra. While at Wiesbaden the visit of Mr, Alhaja Salem. the Nigerian Home Secretary, resulted in several protest demonstrations. Catholic and Lutheran youths and clergymen distributed protest leaflets.
The Biafran Babies Appeal, which hopes to save at least 10,000 children from certain, death. this weed( went into action by flying three Biafran and two British nurses to the besieged area.
Altogether it has 12 planes and the necessary aircrew to fly relief supplies in and babies and their mothers out.
Susan Garth, a spokesman for the organisation, said this week that an appeal was being made to Caritas Internationalis to take babies from Biafra to San Thome, the Portuguese island off East Africa. during the relief programme.
One of the first priorities of the organisation will be to save the children of Biafrans working or studying in Britain.
There are 400 Biafran nurses in Britain. and many of them still have children living with relatives at home.
The project. which is expected to cost in the vicinity of £40.000. is being financed entirely by voluntary help. An appeal is being made for volunteer collectors and readers who can help are asked to write to the Biafran BaNies Appeal, Roebuck House, S.W.I.
Where possible orphans will be rescued first, then refugee mothers and their babies. Thousands of Britons. French and Canadians have already offered their homes.