By Opheera McDoom
KHARTOUM, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of more than 70 million Anglicans worldwide, urged Sudan to be more tolerant towards religious minorities in the mainly Muslim country and return confiscated Church property.
On his first visit to Sudan, the Archbishop of Canterbury will travel to both sides of a bitter north-south civil war to encourage progress in implementing a peace deal signed last year to end the bloodshed which claimed some 2 million lives.
"In the tragic years that have gone by Sudan has been known for conflict and for poverty," he told reporters at a news conference in Khartoum, where Islamic sharia law is in force.
"The question is how will the government ... of this country in the years ahead make sure that Sudan is known for creative, democratic, tolerant policies that will work for the good of an entire population," he added.
Religion and the imposition of sharia on the mainly Christian and animist south was a major catalyst for the outbreak of the civil war which forced more than 4 million people to flee their homes.
Many of them sought refuge in slum camps around Khartoum, the base of the Islamist government which pursued a policy of Islamisation of the population.
Despite the peace deal, sharia is still in force in the national capital, where Sudanese of many religions live.
A commission to protect the rights of non-Muslims in Khartoum, as specified by the peace deal, has yet to be formed more than year after it was signed.
"The official position of the government is that non-Muslims are welcome in the new Sudan and that the hope is that they will be full citizens," Williams said.
"Now the detail of that needs to be worked out and I think it is imperative that it should be."
Williams added the northern-dominated government could do more to encourage goodwill following the deal, starting with the return of property confiscated from the Church in the capital.
"The Episcopal church guest house was ... irregularly sold off a few years ago," he said citing one example. "If one wants to look for signs of goodwill towards a minority these are crucial signals."
Church officials said lots of Christian buildings and land have been seized over the past few decades often with little or no compensation. Most notably was the Cathedral in the grounds of the Presidential Palace which is now a museum.
Many of those cases are in the Sudanese court system.
Williams said during his meetings, both non-Muslims and Muslims had told him there was a more positive atmosphere of tolerance since the peace deal was signed.
"For many people in Sudan the policy of intensive Islamisation has not worked in their interests," Williams said. "It's a very foolish government that is not responsive to these shifts."
On Tuesday Williams will travel to the south to open a new Cathedral and visit some of the areas impoverished by war.