Minnesota team returns after meeting with president Kiir of southern Sudan


Editor’s note: A St. Paul man is trying to arrange a long-distance rescue of his one-year-old and three-year-old nieces after they were abducted by gunmen in Southern Sudan October 3. Gabriel K. Solomon, 30, a University of Minnesota graduate student, reports that his grandmother was fatally shot during the abduction, and his stepmother was also shot. The following report comes from a group working for the release of Yar and Ajak after their visit to Sudan.

Gabriel and Amanda showed great tenacity in getting in there — including hanging out in the lobby of his hotel until close to midnight last night until the Head of the Diplomatic Mission came down and conceded they could meet with Kiir this morning. During the meeting they were “relentless,” Amanda said, in pressing Kiir on the question of whether he will negotiate with the Murle for a peaceful release of the abducted children.

Sad to say that, in a nutshell, President Kiir’s answer was no; that it would be too dangerous to send negotiators into the Murle community; that the Murle will only respond to force, and suggesting that such force is forthcoming.

Naturally we are disappointed that President Kiir will not consider a peaceful method of persuading the Murle to cease child abductions, given that military action will likely result in the deaths of abducted children.

The Save Yar campaign against child abduction will regroup next week to consider our their next step. I believe we will rallying pressure on the S. Sudan government to pursue the peaceful option and seeking aid from the U.S. and the international community for an urgent conflict-management action in Jonglei state.

For the moment they are relishing the progress that the team — Gabriel, Amanda, Robyn Skrebes and James Collins — made in raising the profile of this issue. We thank supportive members of Congress, especially Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., who raised the case of Yar and Ajak and the broader issue directly to President Kiir on Thursday, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar for her strong public statement. And we thank you for providing the signatures and postcards that force the government of South Sudan to address this issue.

All four arrived last night at 9:30 pm. and they are especially thankful for frequent flyer miles donated by Northwest Airlines passengers.

November 10 in Washington
Perhaps most importantly, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., (left) raised the case of Yar and Ajak directly to South Sudan President Salva Kiir in an official meeting on Thursday. President Kiir appeared taken aback and said he would look into it.

With that single action, Rep. McCollum has moved this campaign into the public spotlight and has held the Government of South Sudan accountable for protecting children. Furthermore, her office pledged to be a champion for this case going forward. For elevating this campaign to a higher level, we are deeply indebted to Congresswoman McCollum.

This occurred while our team in D.C. (Kou, Amanda Lyons, Robyn Skrebes and James Collins) was already riding high from having received a strong commitment of support from both of Minnesota’s senators. U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Norm Coleman’s office agreed to quickly send a letter to the Government of South Sudan mission in D.C. to jointly inquire about Yar and Ajak and rampant child abductions in South Sudan in general. The group met with Senator Klobuchar Thursday morning (photo below).

U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., met with President Kiir on Wednesday and raised the general issue of child abduction in Sudan.

The group also expected to meet with Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and a key official in the State Department’s Sudan Programs Group.

They met Roger Winter, U.S. envoy to Sudan — he praised their work but did not offer to help them meet President Kiir as we were hoping he would. …

We understand that the staff of the GOSS Mission delivered to President Kiir some samples of the many postcards that you folks have sent to him via the Mission. (Amanda estimates that her group, Amnesty International Legal Support Network, including fellow organizers Alisha Hilde and Mike Schmidt, have gotten signatures on perhaps 600 postcards that were later mailed.) On Thursday afternoon, Amanda hand-delivered a printout of the e-petition bearing well more than 1,000 of your signatures. …

Barbara Frey of the U. of M. Human Rights Program is still in Minnesota but continues to arrange crucial contacts long-distance. All of the persuasive material that the D.C. team presents to officials rests on the solid research by Frey’s human rights advocacy class including Amelia Corl, Madeline Thaden, Mariana Ferreiro, Jessica Davis, Lolyann Stoffel, Tracy Baumgardt and others.

Honestly the team has done such great work in one day of getting the message through to Kiir (via Betty McCollum and our senators) that we have to move to the next step: Getting President Kiir to spell out what he will do to free Yar and Ajak and all children held by the Murle. And to be fair, South Sudan cannot do it alone. The underlying problems of economic scarcity and insecurity require, in our opinion, investments of aid from the United States and other international donor bodies. They are already active in South Sudan, and we’re still learning about the extent of their activities. But clearly the aid work needs to target these root problems in Jonglei state and other areas where child abduction continues.