Boston pastors, ex-slave tell story

Legislation sought to shut off US markets to oil companies active in Sudan

Francis Bok used to lie awake at night and wonder if anyone would ever come to free him. Since being swept up by an Arab militia at age seven from his village market in southern Sudan, he had been a slave, beaten daily, and forced to sleep with the animals he tended.

"For 10 years, I never had anyone to laugh with," he says. Ready to die rather than go on, he finally escaped on his third attempt.

Now the young man, in his work with the American Anti-Slavery Group, speaks for the tens of thousands in his country who remain in bondage. His voice is part of a rising chorus in the US that is trying to salvage legislation that would change the way the world does business.

As the US Congress gets back to work, a broad-based, bipartisan coalition is calling for the Sudan Peace Act - as passed overwhelmingly (422-2) by the House in June - to become the law of the land. The bill includes provisions that would ban oil companies in partnership with Sudan from US stock exchanges, and require other firms active in the country to disclose the nature of their activities in the process of entering US capital markets.

But the House version has formidable opponents: Wall Street, Federal Reserve Bank chief Alan Greenspan, and President Bush.

The Senate passed the act, minus the sanctions, without holding hearings and with a voice vote held at night. It encourages peace efforts and gives added authority for humanitarian relief. Now, a Senate and House conference committee must work it out.

The coalition of religious and anti-slavery groups, conservatives and liberals, small business, labor, and national security organizations insists that market sanctions represent the one hope for bringing enough pressure to bear on Khartoum to end the civil war, which has killed 2 million people, displaced 4 million, and led an estimated 100,000 into slavery. Congress has termed the government's practices genocide.

The radical Islamic government has tepidly engaged in peace talks with southern rebels for years, but it is widely acknowledged that revenues from rapidly expanding oil exploration - in conjunction with Canada's Talisman Energy, Sweden's Lundin Oil, and China's PetroChina - have boosted its war capacity, further reducing peace prospects.

The coalition had planned a Capitol Hill press conference on Tuesday, with congressmen joining in, but it was cancelled due to the day's terrorist actions. On Monday, American pastors who traveled 9,000 miles to see the situation first hand spoke out in Boston, along with Mr. Bok.

"On July 4th, our Independence Day, I participated in a mission to redeem slaves," says the Rev. Gloria White-Hammond, of Bethel A.M.E. Church. "I interviewed women and children and heard stories of youngsters who saw their parents slaughtered, and women who endured unimaginable sexual abuse, including forced genital mutilation.

"I came back a mad woman," she continued, "and I ask the Senate to have courage to risk the wrath of Wall Street and to invest in morality over money."

In opposing the bill, Wall Street and the US Treasury reject mixing capital markets with foreign policy and say such steps could drive investors away from US markets.

Proponents point to the comments of Talisman's James Buckley, who has stated that no company "could afford not to have access to the US capital market."

The US Commission for International Religious Freedom, which held hearings on Sudan, recommended the market sanctions that were included in the House bill. Some religious groups that are part of Mr. Bush's constituency are members of the coalition, and have urged his support. Instead, the president last week named a special envoy to Sudan, former Senator John Danforth, an Episcopal minister.

While applauding the appointment of Mr. Danforth, Wesley Roberts, president of the Black Ministerial Alliance, said that to drop market sanctions "would make the act meaningless."

The pastors, who traveled with Christian Solidarity International to Sudan, said they redeemed 6,700 slaves. "As ministers of the gospel and descendants of slaves, we have a moral responsibility to act," Dr. Roberts added.

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