News Archives

Senator gives little hope to interfaith coalition on Darfur

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Dan Gangler

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) listens to discussions about the Darfur conflict during a gathering of Hoosier religious and community leaders.
Dec. 14, 2006

By Daniel R. Gangler*

INDIANAPOLIS (UMNS) -- U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar gave little hope to an interfaith coalition of Hoosier religious and community leaders including native Darfurians who asked him to step up his efforts to end ongoing conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Lugar, an Indiana Republican and active United Methodist, heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. During the past three years, he has been actively involved with legislation granting humanitarian aid to Darfur while putting pressure on Sudan in the form of the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act to permit United Nations peacekeeping troops into Darfur.

Lugar called a Dec. 9 dialogue at the University of Indianapolis timely, because Andrew Natsios, special U.S. envoy to Sudan, is in that country with a dozen U.S. dignitaries. Lugar said Natsios told him "the Arab ruling group in the capital feels that they have an existential problem related to their longevity."

"There is no basis for optimism for the moment, but our special envoy is traveling in the area," Lugar said, referring to Natsios. "He's very serious in his intent and bears the weight of the United States. We have to wait for his report. It's about the only thing the world community has going for us right now."

Natsios carries with him a recent, unanimously passed Senate resolution warning Sudan that coercive actions will be taken by the United States and perhaps the rest of the world that aligns with us.

Concerning possible sanctions being considered by Indiana and other states against companies doing business with Sudan, Lugar said the sanctions have to be very comprehensive and substantial to be effective.

Regimes often don't care how sanctions affect their own people, he said. He added sanctions worked in South Africa 20 years ago because Nelson Mandela was imprisoned due to his fight to overthrow apartheid rule. There is no such person in Sudan.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS file photo by John Robinson, Mennonite Central Committee

Internally displaced people live in makeshift domes of sticks, straw and tarps at the Otash camp in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Lugar further warned the 40 members of the coalition present that Natsios is going to issue problems to the current leaders of Sudan of what will happen if they don't stop their current repressive actions. One of their (Sudan leaders') reactions might be for Sudan to deny access to persons wanting to give humanitarian aid. Aid workers also might be hunted down and shot like the people in the camps.

The coalition asked Lugar to do two things in regards to Darfur. First, to push the Bush administration to take actions already approved by Congress. And second, to share correspondence with him to the rest of the world.

Lugar spoke to the ad-hoc coalition in a private meeting at the United Methodist-related University of Indianapolis following his 30th annual day-long symposium for more than 500 high school students and their parents from across the state.

The Darfur coalition comprises Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders and is coordinated by Beth Reilly, a member of Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne where more than 200 Darfurian immigrants live.

Lugar also introduced Michael Phalan, a specialist on the issue of Darfur and staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who works with senators and the House of Representatives on diplomatic issues. Phalan has traveled extensively in Africa and has been to Sudan on behalf of the senator and has discussed the situation in Darfur with leaders of the coalition including representatives of the Fort Wayne Darfurian community for more than a year.

The hour-long dialogue with Lugar began with three presentations. The Rev. Joe Johns, pastor of Fellowship Missionary Church in Fort Wayne, offered a first-hand account of the situation in Darfur as one who does relief work in the refugee camps.

Johns expressed the coalition's gratitude for the work Lugar has done on the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act and asked him to be a champion of the Darfurian people.

He was followed by David Warshauer, president of the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council, who encouraged Lugar to push for full implementation of the peace and accountability act and more specifically to freeze the assets of individuals in the Sudanese Government who are responsible for the genocide and to deny entry at U.S. ports to oil tankers doing business with Sudan.

Warshauer closed by saying, "The words that came out of the Holocaust were 'never again,' and that doesn't just apply to Jews, but to wherever people are subject to genocide."

The Rev. Chad Abbot, pastor of Lockerbie Central United Methodist Church in Indianapolis and coordinator of the South Indiana United Methodist Conference Peace with Justice program, summarized Hoosier activities during the past two years and United Methodist support for funding, legislation, peacekeeping operations and divestment.

State Sen. John Broden (D-Dist. 10) of South Bend, a Roman Catholic, plans to introduce Sudan divestment legislation in the Indiana State Senate next month.

Following presentations, Mastora Bakhie, a Darfurian immigrant who escaped the violence and moved to Fort Wayne, said, "Every day, we lose our relatives, homes, dignity and we don't know when we will find a real solution."

*Gangler serves as director of communication for the Indiana Area of The United Methodist Church and a member of the coalition.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

Related Articles

Commentary: Christians must take Darfur crisis personally

Darfur observer shares horrors of genocide

United Methodists in Indiana focus on Sudan


UMCOR in Sudan

Indiana Area UMC

Million Voices for Darfur