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US Lawmakers to Step Up Economic Pressure on Sudan Over Darfur

The House of Representatives is poised to approve legislation aimed at stepping up economic pressure on the government of Sudan because of the situation in Darfur. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill that the vote is expected Tuesday.

House lawmakers designed the Darfur Accountability and Divestment Act to support the widening grassroots movement in the United States for states, cities and universities and mutual and pension funds to divest from or restrict investments in companies doing business in Sudan.

California Democrat Barbara Lee is the bill's main sponsor and notes that, so far, 19 U.S. states, nine cities, and 54 universities have approved divestment measures.

"Throughout our country, our constituents are standing up and demanding that their hard-earned money not be used to support a pariah government that is killing its own people," she said.

Under the legislation, the Securities and Exchange Commission would compile a list of companies lon the New York Stock Exchange with ties to Khartoum, prohibit them from receiving federal contracts, and make it legal to divest from such companies, removing the threat of lawsuits in the case of pension and other fund managers.

House financial services committee chairman Congressman Barney Frank says the Darfur measure, and a similar one for Iran, does not compel divestment.

"What these bills do is to make it clear, as I think they will once they become law, that the opposition to the genocide in Sudan, to the nuclearization, the weapons nuclearization in Iran, are widespread throughout this country," he said.

Among provisions, companies involved in Sudan would disclose the nature of their operations. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), an arm of Congress, would investigate any Sudan investments by the Thrift Investment Board, which oversees the federal employee retirement fund.

Companies would have to disclose activities with Sudan government or government-controlled entities, investments in military equipment sales or oil-related activities.

Geographic exceptions are made for southern Sudan, providing humanitarian relief for people in Darfur, implementing the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement, and providing military and other equipment for African Union peacekeepers or the United Nations and non-government organizations.

Republicans usually skeptical about the effectiveness of sanctions supported the measure.

"Closing our financial markets to those who particularly directly or indirectly engage in the slaughter of innocent human beings is well within our ability and ought to be the bedrock of our principles," said Congressman Scott Garrett.

Congressman Frank Wolf has been the most outspoken House Republican on Darfur.

"Many states have been reluctant, they have looked for excuses," he said. "Now, this legislation takes away all the excuses."

Republicans insisted on language calling for other governments to adopt similar measures.

The bill gives the U.S. president power to waive provisions on a case by case basis in the interest of U.S. national security.

Bipartisan divestment legislation regarding Darfur is also pending in the Senate, where a measure proposes to identify securities companies with more than one million dollars invested in Sudan's petroleum industry.

So far this year, House lawmakers have also approved other measures urging China, and the Arab League, to use their influence with the Khartoum government to help stop genocide and violence in Darfur, and providing funds to help Darfur refugees living in camps in Chad.