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Activists Rally for Darfur at US Capitol

Activists pressing for stronger U.S. and international action on Darfur rallied at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday. As we hear in this report from VOA congressional correspondent Dan Robinson, members of Congress joined peace walkers and others seeking to draw more public attention to the Darfur situation.

As with similar issues such as South Africa and Burma, the situation in Darfur has slowly but steadily generated public activism in the United States, as well as in other countries.

A glimpse of that could be seen on the West front of the U.S. Capitol as about 200 people involved in the Sudan Campaign were joined by House and Senate lawmakers in a demonstration of support of the people of Darfur.

The event marked the culmination of the organization's Freedom Walk, in which Simon Deng, a Sudanese man captured into slavery as a child in Sudan and now living in the U.S., walked from New York City to Washington.

He is now working to spread awareness about modern slavery, particularly in Sudan, as well as atrocities in Darfur. "I walked from New York to Washington, D.C. I am not crazy. When I see a child in Darfur in the desert, I saw myself over there. When I see houses being burned down in Darfur it is exactly what we saw in southern Sudan for years and years and years," he said.

"Simon Deng is an American hero. He walked here from New York City so African people can walk freely in their own land. We said never again, but on our watch today an entire people is methodically being destroyed. If we cannot or will not stop it and save them, then we can at least speak the truth to them in the face of this genocide," said Charles Jacobs, chairman of the American Anti-Slavery Group:

Also appearing at the rally was Manute Bol, the Sudanese-American basketball player who made history when he joined the N.B.A. in the 1980's eventually playing with four professional teams until 1996. "We can talk, like Simon said, but if we don't take action, nobody [in Darfur] can be saved," he said.

On a cool, windy day at the Capitol, demonstrators were joined by lawmakers who have supported House and Senate legislation on Darfur, including resolutions declaring atrocities there to be genocide.

New York Senator Hillary Clinton is among those calling on President Bush to appoint a high-level envoy to work on the Darfur issue, and efforts to fully implement the Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

She has this additional suggestion. "We need to convene a meeting of world leaders to establish a clear plan on how to protect civilians in Darfur. You know it's more than 100 weeks of genocide and we have never had that kind of meeting."

Republican Senator Sam Brownback said student activism will be the key to keeping the Darfur issue in the public eye. "We need you to keep pushing. We haven't seen a student movement in this country for a lot of years. This [issue] needs to be a student movement. You guys need to carry this. Keep pushing. And let me say as well, if you don't people will die," he said.

Some of the students the lawmaker was referring to came from Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring, Maryland, who were led by 17-year-old senior Nicole Williamson. "We had Hillary Clinton speaking earlier. This is just to get them [members of Congress] to realize what is happening and get them to take action. I think they will listen," she said.

Radio talk show host Joe Madison says while activism on Darfur has not yet reached the levels seen in campaigns against the former apartheid government in South Africa, it is growing stronger. "It is building, and these type of activities and the support of members of Congress can only help the cause," he said.

Wednesday's demonstration will be followed by a larger event on April 30 called The Rally to Stop Genocide.

Representatives of human rights groups and religious groups will appear with Holocaust, genocide, and ethnic cleansing survivors from Cambodia, Rwanda, Kosovo, and Darfur, as well as with celebrities and members of Congress.