- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2006

BALTIMORE — A Sudanese native ran into an obstacle in his quest to walk 300 miles from New York to the District as part of a push for intervention in the humanitarian crisis in his homeland. But he is still on track to cover the entire distance on foot.

Simon Deng, a former slave trying to call attention to slavery and genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region, was barred yesterday afternoon from walking across the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge, which carries U.S. 40 over the Susquehanna River in northeast Maryland.

Pedestrians are prohibited on the bridge, and police do not make exceptions for protest marchers, said Maryland Transportation Authority Police Sgt. Richard Thorne, assistant commander at the bridge detachment.

Mr. Deng and organizers of the Sudan Freedom Walk called Maryland elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele — who recently spoke out about the atrocities in Sudan — in an attempt to gain an exemption from the law, but were rebuffed.

“It was wrong for the governor’s office and the lieutenant governor’s office to not intervene in this situation and allow me to cross the bridge,” Mr. Deng said by cell phone after police drove him across the bridge.

The lieutenant governor urged Mr. Deng and his supporters to accept the ride “out of concern for their safety,” said Bryon Johnston, a spokesman for Mr. Steele.

“The lieutenant governor certainly appreciates their efforts to bring attention to this important humanitarian issue,” Mr. Johnston said.

After driving Mr. Deng and his five fellow marchers across the bridge, which linksPerryville and Havre de Grace, police drove them away from their route so that they could cover an equal distance on foot.

“We took them back 1.6 miles, which is the length of the bridge, so, therefore, they truly walked, mile for mile, the entire distance,” Sgt. Thorne said. “Mr. Deng was agreeable to that compromise.”

Mr. Deng said walking the whole way had symbolic importance.

“The whole world, for all these years, they were just talking the talk” about Sudan, he said. “Instead of talking the talk, let’s walk the walk.”

The United Nations has described the situation in Darfur as the world’s gravest humanitarian crisis. At least 180,000 persons have died and about 2 million have been displaced since the start of a 2003 revolt by rebels from Darfur’s ethnic African population. The Arab-dominated Sudanese government responded to the revolt by unleashing Arab militias, which carried out sweeping atrocities against ethnic African villagers.

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