BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) – Vermont ice cream magnates Ben and Jerry, who promote social causes as much as unconventional flavors, are now taking on the Chinese government.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the founders of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc., dispatched a three-vehicle convoy to San Francisco on Wednesday carrying messages such as “China’s Disgrace, playing games in Darfur.”

The cross-country convoy, which will stop at college campuses and Ben & Jerry’s stores, is due to arrive in San Francisco by April 9, in time to greet the Olympic torch, which makes its only United States stop there en route to Beijing for the Summer Olympics in August.

One of the drivers is a former Sudanese “lost boy” now living in San Francisco, another is a Dutch physician who has worked for years in Sudanese refugee camps.

Mamer Ajak, 26, the Sudan native, says the procession will help draw attention to mass killings in Darfur. He spent 13 years in a refugee camp before coming to the U.S. seven years ago.

“The life I went through was terrible. And that’s why I’m doing this,” Ajak said. “I don’t want another child in Sudan to go through the same thing I went through.”

One of the vehicles boasts a chimney with its own “torch of disgrace,” complete with a flame, modeled after the Olympic torch; another says “China can stop genocide in Darfur,” and another “China, extinguish the flames of genocide.”

“What’s on the actual Olympic torch are lucky clouds of hope; on our torch are the black clouds of terror,” Cohen said. “Beneath it, you see illustrations that were done by children, refugees, of the terror in Darfur.”

The message boards on the vehicles once supported the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, but they were painted over.

Critics say China buys much of its oil from Sudan, the country on the northeast shoulder of Africa, and is said to supply many of the weapons used in the Darfur conflict.

China is hoping to use the Olympics to showcase its economic progress. Last month, Hollywood director Steven Spielberg said China had not done enough to end bloodshed in Darfur and withdrew as an artistic adviser to the opening and closing ceremonies.

“If China is an emerging power, it also has an emerging responsibility to use its unique position to end the genocide in Darfur,” Cohen said. “China will never be successful in using the Olympics as a fig leaf to polish its image while the genocide in Darfur creates a bloody stain on its reputation.”

One goal of the trip will be to share with Americans the stories of the people who are suffering in Darfur.

“If you hear the stories of the individuals, I don’t think there’s a way you can not be touched,” said Dr. Ashis Brahma, a Dutch physician who has worked with Sudanese refugees.

Cohen and Greenfield estimated the trip would cost about $15,000. The Ben & Jerry’s Foundation is helping to finance the trip, as are other groups working on behalf of Darfur.

“It’s a low-scale, grassroots effort,” Greenfield said. “This is not a huge corporate undertaking.”

AP-ES-03-26-08 1620EDT

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