Many freed Sudanese slaves and slavers are no such thing, report says
"Momentum has been growing among American Christians to do something about the captives in Sudan. But recently, evidence has surfaced that suggests purchasing the freedom of slaves may be doing more harm than good," Christianity Today reported back in 1999. At the heart of our story then were fears that the slave redemption programs of groups like Christian Solidarity International (CSI) were "fueling both a slave economy and the war" in Sudan.

Now the story has shifted dramatically—in many cases, slave redemption is nothing but an elaborate hoax. The Washington Post puts the exposé on today's front page, but The Irish Times apparently had it first on Saturday, and British papers The Independent and The Scotsman first published reports on Sunday (all three articles were written by Nairobi-based reporter Declan Walsh, but they differ). "In reality, many of the 'slaves' are fakes, rounded up by SPLA officials to pose for the cameras," Walsh wrote in The Scotsman. "The 'slavers' are also fake, sometimes a light-skinned rebel soldier that resembles an Arab, other times a passing trader. Before the CSI plane lands, the children are coached in stories of abduction and abuse to be repeated when a redeemer, or visiting journalist, asks questions. Interpreters may be instructed to twist their answers."

The key whistleblower is Italian missionary Mario Riva, who recognized some of the "slaves" as his own parishioners. "The people told me they had been collected to get money. It was a kind of business," he tells Walsh. And since he could speak the local language, he also noticed deliberate mistranslations: "For example, says Father Riva, [CSI representative John] Eibner ...

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