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Indiana interfaith coalition presses for Sudan divestment

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Ambassador Khidir Ahmed
July 17, 2006

A UMNS Report

By Dan Gangler*

INDIANAPOLIS (UMNS) — An ad hoc interfaith coalition of Hoosiers told the ambassador of Sudan that a bill calling for Indiana to divest state funds from that warring country will be introduced next year.

The 45-minute call from United Methodists and other religious leaders and faith organizations to Ambassador Khidir Ahmed on July 13 sought his perspective on the Sudanese situation. They also informed him of the intent of Indiana State Sen. John Broden of South Bend to introduce a bill in December for consideration in the 2007 Indiana legislature session to divest state funds from Sudan until the Sudanese government takes action to bring peace to the region of Darfur.

“It’s likely that (we) will seek targeted divestments to minimize any damage to ordinary Sudanese people,” Broden said during the call. “The prospect of the bill will go as we see how peacekeeping goes in the next months.”

The telephone conversation with Ahmed was followed by a second call with Michael Phelan, a Washington legislative aide to U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana. The conversations were proposed by Beth Reilly, a member of Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne, Ind. Lugar also is a United Methodist.

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A UMNS photo by Brian Steidle

Over the course of just a few days, about 7,000 refugees arrive in Menawashi, South Darfur, Sudan.
The primary issues around the conversation with Phelan were the progress of the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act (S.R. 383) and the issue of divestment as it applies both to federal and state legislation. The bill has been through both houses of Congress and is back for consideration in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Lugar.

Religious leaders on the call represented three Jewish groups, United Methodists, Baptists, Friends, Lutherans, Roman Catholics and an independent missionary church.

Earlier this June, the Indiana North and Indiana South United Methodist conferences, meeting in West Lafayette and Bloomington, approved a resolution on Darfur that, among other things, pledged support for the state of Indiana to divest its funds from Sudan. Another point of that resolution supported federal efforts to sustain humanitarian aid and peacemaking operations in Darfur until citizens there could return home.

Pushing for peacekeepers

The Rev. Terry Anderson, associate director of the Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County, opened the conversation by thanking Ahmed for the action Sudan took in May when it signed a peace agreement “toward a just peace and assurance for human rights of all people in Sudan.”

Also participating in the call was Angelique Walker-Smith, executive director of the Greater Indianapolis Federation of Churches, and Gretchen Corn of the Indiana-Kentucky Region of Church World Service, an ecumenical relief organization.

“Many of us would like to see a U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur and don’t feel that the African Union troops are effective,” said Marcia Goldstone, executive director of the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council. She also reminded Ahmed that Oxfam, an international relief organization, had recently closed two of its office in Darfur because of the violence. “We hope you agree to a U.N. peacekeeping force,” she said.

Ahmed acknowledged some role for the United Nations in the region but said no one has come up with a sound argument for replacing the African Union troops with other troops. Sudan favors African Union troops because they are the best and cheapest way to maintain the peace agreement, he said. They need training from NATO, logistical help and appropriate communication devices, he said. He told the callers that as members of a rainbow of religious groups, they could play a major role with humanitarian aid.

Disagreeing on divestment

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A UMNS file photo by Erma Metzler

The Rev. Darren Cushman-Wood leads an interfaith prayer vigil for Sudan in downtown Indianapolis in this 2004 file photo.
Ahmed called divestment “a serious issue” and contended that it would hurt the people religious leaders are trying to help. The average income of a Sudanese citizen is less than a $1 a day. He further explained that Sudan continues to suffer from 1977 sanctions that crippled the railway directly affecting the transportation of medicine and food.

He told the callers that May 5 Darfur Peace agreement needs to be supported. “The right thing to do is more engagement, more investment in the country with the presence of American business to build a middle class. … I disagree with you on divestment.”

The Rev. Darrell Cushman Wood, senior pastor of Speedway United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, clarified that the divestments would be targeted at companies providing military equipment and provisions to the country that would continue to prolong violence.

"Our deepest concern is keeping peace in Darfur and related regions," said Monteze Snyder, a professor at Earlham University in Richmond and a member of the Religious Society of Friends. “The sanctions are viewed as a way of dealing with the consequences if the support of peace and peacekeeping efforts are not reached.”

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A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey, UMCOR

Adut Malek Wul and her children sit on a woven mat given to them by UMCOR to keep them out of the mud and help lessen the chances of contracting disease.
The Rev. Joe Johns of the Fellowship Missionary Church in Fort Wayne, who recently visited refugee camps in Darfur, pointedly told Ahmed that people in the camps were victims of violence by not only the Janjaweed (militia), but also by “being bombed by helicopters and planes, which must have been the government.”

Ahmed thanked Johns and his group for their efforts, but his answer to the situation in Darfur was "adding more troops with appropriate equipment, advanced communication and transportation by the United Nations or other countries of the region. This has to be done in appropriate ways." He said the African Union can pave the way for the future.

The ambassador said he had also been to the refugee camps and denied any charges of genocide, saying there was no evidence of genocide, no mass graves. "You can’t just blame the government."

Rebel groups in Darfur have turned on each other during the last few weeks, he added. "With the Darfur Peace Agreement, focus should be to pressure people to sign the agreement. People that used to fight for them (Darfurians) are not signing the agreement."

Walker-Smith raised the issue of ethnicity in Darfur, pointing out that during a time she had lived in Darfur, she realized the growing diversity of the people with groups moving from the advancing desert in the north.

The ethnic issue is a major one involving Africans and Arabs, Ahmed said. "U.N. peacekeepers will further marginalize the people. To send a huge number of troops from outside of the region would ignite and provoke the people in the region," which is “an invitation to all-out civil war." Since the peace agreement, Ahmed said his government is more open to discuss things with the United Nations but favors an increase in African Union forces.

"I hope you will consider everything" Ahmed said as he ended the conversation. He invited the religious leaders to Washington for a face-to-face meeting.

Encouraging the coalition

Phelan congratulated the coalition’s efforts in gaining an audience with Ahmed and "suggest(ed) a call from every state to the Sudan Embassy," he said. He encouraged the coalition to continue efforts on the state level with divestment.

He said he believes the transition of African Union forces to the U.N. forces will be sustained. "The United States has not historically participated in U.N. peacekeeping forces — just with police, logistic assistance, transportation and training.

"The United States has participated with financial assistance and is committed to funding humanitarian needs in (Darfur) Sudan," he said. Of all the participating countries, the United States has the largest funding (to Sudan), with half the World Food Program pledge, he said. The federal government has already been leading and will continue to lead — in 2005 with $1.3 billion in humanitarian aid, in 2006 with $1.4 billion, and now in 2007 with $1.4 billion, he said.

Phelan advised the coalition to think through the pros and cons of divestment strategies and make those strategies clear. He also encouraged the group to call the Sudanese Embassy any time something significant occurs in Darfur.

*Gangler is the director of communications for the Indiana Area of the United Methodist Church.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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