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Darfur pressure builds on Buffett

April 30, 2007 Leave a comment

By Guy Dinmore in Washington

Published: April 30 2007

Warren Buffett is known for hanging on to profitable stocks long term. This week, however, at the annual general meeting of his Berkshire Hathaway company, the “sage of Omaha” will hear an unusual case from shareholders who want him to sell his huge holdings in a well-performing Chinese oil company – to help stop the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region.

The AGM, which last year drew 24,000 people, will provide an extraordinary platform for a growing divestment movement in the US even if, as generally expected, Mr Buffett stands by his insistence he will not sell his stake in PetroChina, valued at some $3bn (€2.2bn, £1.5bn) or 11 per cent of outstanding shares.

In a recent note to shareholders Mr Buffett, the world’s second richest man, agreed that conditions in Darfur were “deplorable” and empathised with those who wanted change.

Read more…

Investors press Buffett over Darfur

April 29, 2007 Leave a comment

By Guy Dinmore in Washington

Published: April 29 2007

Warren Buffett is known for hanging on to profitable stocks long term. This week, however, at the annual general meeting of his Berkshire Hathaway company, the “sage of Omaha” will hear an unusual case from shareholders who want him to sell his huge holdings in a well-performing Chinese oil company – to help stop the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region.

The AGM, which last year drew 24,000 people to Omaha, will provide an extraordinary platform for a growing divestment movement in the US even if, as generally expected, Mr Buffett stands by his insistence that he will not sell his stake in PetroChina, valued at some $3bn (€2.2bn, £1.5bn) or 11 per cent of outstanding shares.

But he added: “We do not believe that Berkshire should automatically divest shares of an investee because it disagrees with a specific activity of that investee.”

Jerry Porter is not deterred. He and his wife Judith, whose Jewish grandparents were killed by the Nazis in Latvia, are tabling a broadly worded resolution at the AGM on Saturday that would have Berkshire divest from foreign companies engaging in businesses that US companies are barred from because of presidential executive orders.

“We think Mr Buffett is an ethical person and he can help end the genocide,” Mr Porter told the FT. “If Warren Buffett was to announce Berkshire Hathaway was divesting from shares in PetroChina it would have a huge effect on other shareholders. Are we talking about China or Sudan? Both. Genocide has continued because of China’s support of Sudan.”

Mr Buffett says he has seen no evidence that PetroChina, which is listed in New York and Hong Kong, has any operations in Sudan. He concedes that China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), its state-owned parent company which has a majority holding, does work in Sudan, but he asserts that PetroChina has no influence as a subsidiary.

The Sudan Divestment Task Force this month released a report alleging that PetroChina has an “intimate, opaque and symbiotic relationship” with its parent. It also notes that, primarily through CNPC operations, Sudan exports 50-80 per cent of its oil to China, which in turn is Sudan’s largest arms supplier and its protector in the UN Security Council.

The Porters, from Pennsylvania, will present the motion and the floor will be open to debate. The Save Darfur campaign is planning a publicity blitz outside Omaha’s vast Qwest convention centre.

Shareholders appreciate that, whatever his motives, Mr Buffett is giving space for a debate likely to receive national exposure, noting that he could have excluded it from the agenda.

The airing of China’s role in Sudan comes at a crucial moment, notes Bennett Freeman, senior vice-president for social research and policy at Calvert, which runs “socially responsible” funds and helps the divestment movement.

“Buffett is providing a timely and important platform that I hope will be heard in Beijing and Khartoum,” he said. He agreed with US officials who say China appears to be responding to international pressure and had played a role in persuading Sudan to move towards accepting a UN-African Union peacekeeping force, although it has not yet agreed to full deployment.

Adam Sterling, speaking for the divestment campaign, stresses the goal is to have Mr Buffett engage PetroChina in an effort to influence the activities of its parent company and, failing that, then divest.

Various divestment campaigns – mainly targeted at Sudan and Iran – are building momentum in the US. Several states have passed divestment legislation on Sudan, as has Harvard University’s endowment, which sold PetroChina stock.

Last Friday the Florida Senate unanimously passed legislation that would lead to divestment of its $150bn pension fund from foreign companies investing in Sudan and Iran’s energy sector. US companies are already barred from Iran and Sudan by law or executive order.

“Just as Florida acted to help abolish apartheid in South Africa, we must use our economic power to stand up to Sudan and Iran today. There truly is no time to waste,” Senator Ted Deutch, sponsor of the legislation, said, noting that Florida would be the first to take action aimed at Iran.

He told the FT that pressure to follow suit would be applied to funds, such as Berkshire Hathaway, if held by the Florida pension fund.

The campaign has raised the hackles of the US business community, which is responding with lawsuits. The administration of President George W. Bush appears divided over the issue and has largely remained silent.

Bill Reinsch, head of the National Foreign Trade Council, which is suing the state of Illinois and would consider suing Florida, says states are acting unconstitutionally and making bad policy. “It’s chicken soup diplomacy,” he said. “Makes you feel good but doesn’t actually do any good.”

On Iran, he echoes recent testimony of administration officials before Congress who argued that forced divestment would counteract the efforts of Mr Bush to take a multilateral approach with allies against Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Iraq casts doubt over Darfur options

December 13, 2006 Leave a comment

By Guy Dinmore in Washington and Daniel Dombey in Brussels
December 13 2006 03:43

The crisis in Iraq has left US and British officials wary of waging a further unilateral action in a hostile Muslim country. “You must go to the dance with a partner,” says one Washington official.

But the worsening violence in Sudan’s Darfur region has led the allies to look at various last-ditch military options, including a US naval blockade of Sudan’s Red Sea coast, targeted air strikes, or imposition of a no-fly zone over Darfur. That last option has received Tony Blair’s backing, on the condition that it has UN approval.

Read more…

EU ponders using troops to help quell Darfur strife

April 22, 2005 Leave a comment

by Guy Dinmore and Hubert Wetzel in Washington and Daniel Dombey,in Vilnius

Published: April 22 2005

French and German forces could be sent to stop the violence in Sudan’s Darfur region as part of a European Union peacekeeping mission that is one of several ideas to be discussed by EU foreign ministers next week, officials said yesterday.

The proposed EU peacekeeping force would support an African Union observer mission made up largely of Nigerian and Rwandan troops already in the region but in too few numbers to have a significant impact.

The EU contingent, if agreed, was likely to give logistics support to the African observers but EU ground forces had not been ruled out, provided there was the consent of the Sudanese government and the AU, the officials said.

Analysts in Washington were sceptical of either party being able to agree or that the EU would find consensus or the available troops. Read more…

Bush administration tries to preserve Sudan

April 17, 2005 Leave a comment

By Guy Dinmore, Financial Times

RUMBEK, southern Sudan, Apr 16, 2005 — New uniforms were issued, a military brass band had practised for days and a national holiday was declared for the Sudanese crowds who turned out yesterday to celebrate their most important guest after decades of civil war.

Robert Zoellick may only rank as the equivalent of a deputy foreign minister, but he was treated as a head of state in remote, rebel-held Rumbek. Women ululated and barefoot children jumped up and down as the deputy secretary of state inspected the guard of honour.

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Zoellick looks to Sudan’s south for blueprint to end Darfur’s conflict

April 16, 2005 Leave a comment

by Guy Dinmore in Rumbek and El Fasher, Sudan

Published: April 16 2005

New uniforms were issued, a military brass band had practised for days and a national holiday was declared for the Sudanese crowds who turned out yesterday to celebrate their most important guest after decades of civil war.

Robert Zoellick may only rank as the equivalent of a deputy foreign minister, but he was treated as a head of state in remote, rebel-held Rumbek.

Women ululated and barefoot children jumped up and down as the deputy secretary of state inspected the guard of honour.

The people of Rumbek in southern Sudan, mostly animists and some Christians, have been fighting for their own state. Under the north- south power-sharing accord signed with Khartoum in January, the southerners are to have a chance to vote for secession after six years.

But the Bush administration is trying to preserve Sudan’s unity, fearing another fragmented, failed state and also enjoying a close counter-terrorism relationship with Sudan’s Islamic government.

The international community desperately hopes that the north-south accord can serve as a political framework to resolve other conflicts across Sudan – notably Darfur in the west, where as many as 300,000 people have died in two years of fighting, disease and famine. Read more…

Zoellick looks to Sudan’s south for blueprint to end Darfur’s conflict

April 16, 2005 Leave a comment

By Guy Dinmore in Rumbek and El Fasher, Sudan

Published: April 16 2005

New uniforms were issued, a military brass band had practised for days and a national holiday was declared for the Sudanese crowds who turned out yesterday to celebrate their most important guest after decades of civil war.

Robert Zoellick may only rank as the equivalent of a deputy foreign minister, but he was treated as a head of state in remote, rebel-held Rumbek.

Women ululated and barefoot children jumped up and down as the deputy secretary of state inspected the guard of honour. Read more…