Thursday, December 12, 2013
PORTLAND - Two rows of soldiers who fought in war-torn Sudan broke into a peace song in Portland High School's auditorium Saturday, fists raised in the air, accompanied by hundreds of clapping, cheering and ululating fellow countrymen.
Riek Machar, vice president of South Sudan, wears a wreath given to him by Portland’s Sudanese community as he arrives at Portland High School’s auditorium on Saturday.
Photos by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer
Roughly 400 Sudanese attended Saturday’s town hall-style forum in Portland High School’s auditorium. “Lucky are those who are witnessing this event,” said Samuel Albino of Portland.
The crowd was welcoming Riek Machar, vice president of South Sudan, who spoke to Portland's Sudanese community about developments in the year-old country. The Democratic Republic of Southern Sudan was officially recognized in 2011, after a half-century of civil war that killed millions.
The event featured a town hall- style forum, with Machar fielding questions from the roughly 400 Sudanese who traveled to Portland from across New England to hear him.
Machar met with city officials and Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, who filled him in on the contributions of the Sudanese community to the city.
Later, Machar told the crowd he had to come to Portland because he had received so many complaining phone calls from the Portland Sudanese community every time he traveled to Washington, D.C., and New York without stopping in Maine.
"This time I felt I should come to you," said Machar.
Portland is home to one of the largest Sudanese communities in the United States. The community marked the creation of South Sudan in July 2011 with a daylong celebration at the Portland Expo that drew several thousand people.
The new country has faced big challenges as it develops its economy, stabilizes the government and delivers services to its 8 million residents.
Machar said there have been a number of agreements worked out with its northern neighbor, the Republic of Sudan, such as one that will bring about a resumption of oil production later this year.
"And with that, things will return to normal," said Machar.
But he did say there are still a number of issues between the two countries that need to be resolved.
Members of the Sudanese community said Machar's appearance in Portland was exciting.
"Lucky are those who are here witnessing this event," said Samuel Albino of Portland.
One of several presenters at the forum, Albino called the event "a very spectacular day."
"This has been a dream for 52 years. I am happy to see the vice president to get the news of the people we left behind," said Martha Anthony of Manchester N.H., who has lived in the U.S. for 13 years.
Sadia Kubari of Portland, who fled Sudan in 1999, said she had a long list of questions for Machar.
"I want to know about security, the economy and the agreements between the north and the south," said Kubari.
Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: