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Billionaire Buffett Asked to Set Example on Darfur

In the heartland of America – in the city of Omaha, Nebraska – the issue of Darfur will play a major role at an annual stockholders meeting.

Some investors of Berkshire Hathaway, Incorporated, want the company to sell its stake in a firm whose parent company has ties to Sudan. The chairman of Berkshire Hathaway is well-known billionaire investor Warren Buffett. Buffett will be in Omaha Saturday for the shareholders meeting.

Jason Miller is policy director of the Sudan Divestment Task Force. He’s being allowed to address the shareholders about Darfur. From Omaha, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about why he’s attending the meeting.

“We’re there because we know that Mr. Buffett and Berkshire-Hathaway have a tremendous ability to influence the markets. And we’re asking him and Berkshire Hathaway to engage one of the most problematic companies operating in Sudan, PetroChina and its parent company, China National Petroleum Corporation, who are providing most of the revenues to the Sudanese government that is in turn used to fund the Darfur genocide…. We’re asking Mr. Buffett to use the power of his voice, as the largest shareholder of PetroChina outside the Chinese government itself, in order to change behavior and hopefully influence outcomes for the better in Darfur,” he says.

Buffett says he agreed to a vote on the issue, as proposed by shareholder Judith Miller, even though he’s opposed to her proposal. Miller says, “That’s correct. And to clarify, our organization, the Sudan Divestment Task Force, feels there are many steps between doing nothing and fully divesting. And at this point in time, we’d like to see Mr. Buffet take some of those initial early steps, such as rigorously engaging PetroChina on its connections to its parent company and its parent company’s operations in Sudan.”

Similar calls for international divestment occurred during the apartheid years in South Africa. “What’s different about this current movement is that while we’re still following on the trail of that apartheid divestment movement, we’re trying to limit our targets to just a few of the really problematic actors in Sudan. Overall, there are over 500 multi-nationals operating in Sudan and we’re only targeting a few dozen,” he says. Miller expects to address the shareholders meeting for about 30 minutes.