Clooney on Sudan mission

2010-10-06 22:39

Juba - American actor George Clooney is visiting the Southern Sudan.

Southern Sudan is three months from a January 9 independence vote that could see Africa's largest country break in two. The vote - and the potential of a new north-south war because of it - are the reason behind the rash of visits.

"If you knew a tsunami, or Katrina or a Haiti earthquake was coming, what would you do to save people?" Clooney said, according to a blog post by Ann Curry, a reporter for NBC who is accompanying Clooney.

Clooney spent the past week travelling to remote, conflict-prone areas of Sudan's south with John Prendergast, the founder of the Enough Project, an anti-genocide advocacy group.

One photo posted by Curry showed Clooney pointing over a field that Curry wrote was the site of a mass grave from 2008. That was in Abyei, a town that was largely burned to the ground after southern and northern armies clashed there, prompting an estimated 60 000 people to flee.

The UN reported at the time that at least 140 people died.

UN Security Council

Clooney, who declined a request for comment, also visited the town of Malakal, where elements of Sudan's northern and southern armies have clashed twice since the end of the 21-year north-south civil war in 2005.

The group of Americans also talked to villagers in Lul, an area where Human Rights Watch recently documented killings and rapes by the soldiers against civilians who opposed the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement.

The UN Security Council arrived on Wednesday. School children lined the streets and hundreds of people at the airport chanted a greeting to America's UN ambassador, Susan Rice.

The group also chanted "Welcome, welcome ICC," a reference to the International Criminal Court that has indicted Sudan's president for war crimes in the western region of Darfur. Rice is known for her hard line views on how the US should deal with the northern government, which is headed by President Omar al-Bashir.

The Security Council plans to meet with Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir but will not meet with al-Bashir. Members will also assess preparations for the January 9 independence vote in Southern Sudan and a separate vote that day in the oil-rich region of Abyei.

In a speech last week, Kiir said that he and his people have experienced "the anguish of war" and do not want to return to conflict.