Friday, June 15, 2007

Darfur refugees attend NBA Finals

Congratulations to the Spurs on their sweep of the Cavs last night; here's a story you won't see much about:

Cavaliers reserve swingman Ira Newble hugged and shook hands with 15 refugees from southern Sudan, his special guests for Game 4.

Newble has become an activist for Darfur, a region of Sudan where four years of warfare have left more than 200,000 dead and 2.5 million people displaced.

"A lot of people are losing lives right now. This needs to stop," Newble said. "This is a form of genocide. It's no different than the Holocaust."

Newble has been gathering signatures from fellow players for a letter he plans to send to China, a major backer of Sudan. China is also the host of the 2008 Olympics, an event in which NBA players will participate.

China, which buys two-thirds of Sudan's oil exports, sells the African country weapons and military aircraft and has blocked efforts to send U.N. peacekeeping forces to Darfur without Sudanese consent.

So far, Newble has 15 signatures on the letter. He said more are to come.

Newble decided to take action after reading about the conflict, including the involvement of professor Eric Reeves, a Sudan expert at Smith College in Massachusetts.

"He's a guy who could have easily looked away," said Reeves, who attended the game. "Ira has fashioned a dream team of consciousness."

Newble, who was inactive for Game 4 and has only played one minute in the series, invited 15 of Sudan's "Lost Boys," orphaned and made homeless in Sudan's civil war, to Quicken Loans Arena.

Ngor Aguen, 27, came to Cleveland six years ago from Sudan with help from Catholic Charities. Wearing a blue Cavs hat and a wine-colored "Rise Up!" T-shirt, he met Newble for the first time Thursday night.

"He's got a heart," Aguen said. "He can see outside of here and say, 'What can I do to help?' God put it in his hands. I think he will be a messenger."

Newble plans a trip to Darfur in August.

The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when local rebels took up arms against the Sudanese government, accusing it of decades of neglect. Sudanese leaders are accused of unleashing the pro-government Arab militia, the janjaweed, to fight them -- a charge they deny.

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