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US Idaho’s governor says against Sudan divestment plan

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December 12, 2007 (LEWISTON, Idaho) — Idaho’s public pension fund managers should keep investments in companies that do business in Sudan even though critics say the companies might be supporting genocide in the African country, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter says.

Otter explained his position in a letter sent Dec. 4 to University of Idaho sophomore Travis Thompson, president of the school’s Student Anti-Genocide Coalition, which wants the state to drop those investments.

The coalition contends the Sudanese government may be financing genocidal policies in western Sudan’s Darer region. President Bush has called the violence genocide, and U.S. sanctions on Sudan have kept out American companies since 1997.

Otter wrote that the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho is not invested directly in the Sudanese government or Sudanese companies, but "does have some investments in foreign-based companies which may have some business interests in Sudan." However, he said that’s not sufficient reason to sell those investments.

"While divestment in these companies might send a symbolic message, it will not have a direct effect on the situation in Darfur," Otter wrote.

He noted that the pension plan offers a "Sudan Free fund ... available for those employees who wish to exercise their own moral convictions."

Otter sent two letters to Thompson. The first, on Oct. 10, took no position. The second, in December, explained Otter’s position.

Thompson shared the letters with the Lewiston Tribune.

In the fiscal year ended June 30, the PERSI’s assets rose 20 percent to $11.46 billion from $9.59 billion a year ago.

The fund has about $23 million invested in six companies that do business in Sudan. Those holdings represent about 0.2 percent of the fund’s total assets.

There are roughly 115,000 public employees and 700 employers covered by the $11.5 billion PERSI public pension fund.

(AP)

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