President of South Sudan meets with University of Minnesota students; pledges action against child abductions

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After meeting with South Sudan President Salva Kiir, a group of University of Minnesota students emerged reassured that he would act to control a wave of abductions that have swept up more than 450 Sudanese children in the last two years.

Please join us for the discussion panel “Save Yar and Ajak: Child Abductions in Southern Sudan”
When: Monday, November 19th 3-4:30 pm
Where: Cowles Auditorium, Hubert H. Humphrey Center, University of Minnesota West Bank

Although President Kiir told members of the Save Yar Campaign on Nov. 10 that negotiations were not possible with the Murle militia which is held responsible for the abductions, and that only military force could halt the abduction spree, the Save Yar Campaign again urged President Kiir to attempt peaceful means to persuade the Murle to cease the abductions.

The student group called upon Ismael Kony, a member of Kiir’s coalition government once recognized as the leader of the Murle militia groups, to negotiate with Murle leaders. Kony publicly declared on Nov. 4 that the Murle groups should cease abductions; on Nov. 9 a Murle militia was held responsible for the abduction of a girl and fatal shooting of a boy. The Save Yar Campaign called on Mr. Kony to personally negotiate with Murle leaders to cease abductions and release previously abducted children.

President Kiir, who was in Washington to meet with U.S. government officials, granted a meeting with the students at the urging of Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn. Rep. McCollum met with President Kiir Nov. 8 and asked that he look into the abduction of two nieces of one of her constituents, Gabriel Solomon of St. Paul, Minn. Senators Coleman and Klobuchar sent a joint letter Nov. 9 to Kiir urging him to meet with Solomon and consider the proposals of the Save Yar Campaign, writing: “We believe this crisis presents an important opportunity for the Government of South Sudan to distinguish itself in the world community as a government that protects the rights of its most vulnerable citizens.” Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., also have been supportive.

The students urged the U.S. Congress to monitor the abduction crisis through official communications and congressional hearings. The campaign asks that the United States work through its existing development partnership with South Sudan to address the health and economic problems that provide motives for child abduction.

Background:
Solomon’s nieces – Yar Mading, age 3, and 18-month-old Ajak Mading – were abducted October 3 in Jonglei state, South Sudan. Their great-grandmother was fatally shot in the abduction and their grandmother grievously wounded.

The Murle were funded by North Sudan during the recent civil war and did not lay down arms after the U.S.-brokered peace agreement. They seize children from neighboring communities to raise as their own. With local officials taking no action for a month to locate or free the girls, Solomon and three fellow University of Minnesota students traveled to Washington, D.C., to attempt to meet with Kiir during his visit for talks with U.S. officials.

Joining Solomon, 27, in the 45-minute private audience with President Kiir and his advisers was Amanda Lyons, 25, law student and president of the U. of M. Amnesty International Legal Support Network. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs students Robyn Skrebes, 26, and James E. Collins, 23, accompanied them to Washington for meetings with key officials in Congress, the State Department, the Labor Department’s office of human trafficking, and the advocacy group Human Rights Watch.

On October 3, 2007, University of Minnesota graduate student, Gabriel (Kou) Solomon’s two nieces – Yar, 3, and Ajak, 18 months- were forcibly abducted from their home in the village of Liliir, by armed members of a neighboring tribe, the Murle. Child abductions and other crimes against civilians are threatening to unravel the peace agreement that brought to an end more than 20 years of civil war between the North and South. Joined in his effort by students in his Human Rights Advocacy seminar, Kou Solomon has brought
international attention to the problem of child abduction in Southern Sudan. At this presentation, students working on the Save Yar Campaign will discuss their work on the case and their strategies for preventing further kidnappings in the region.

Save Yar Campaign University of Minnesota member organizations: Human Rights Program, Amnesty International Legal Support Network, Public Affairs Student Association, United Nations Student Association.

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