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Fight To End Darfur Killings Critical

Actors, Olympians Tell Annan The Fight To End Darfur Killings Has Reached Critical Stage

New York, Dec 15 2006 9:00PM

The battle to end the mass killings and displacement in Sudan’s Darfur region is nearing “a watershed moment” that will determine whether the international community will take decisive action or stand by and witness a repeat of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, the actor Don Cheadle said today.

Mr. Cheadle, the actor and director George Clooney, the Kenyan long-distance runner Tegla Loroupe and the American speed-skater Joey Cheek met Secretary-General Kofi Annan today after returning from a visit to Beijing and Cairo, where they held talks with senior Chinese and Egyptian Government officials to discuss the continuing tragedy in Darfur.

The actors and Olympic athletes said they discussed with Mr. Annan how they could work in the months ahead to spotlight the need for action in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2 million others forced to flee their homes since 2003, while avoiding obstructing any potential diplomatic efforts to end the conflict.

Fighting continues to rage in Darfur between Government forces, allied militias and rebel groups, despite a peace deal in May that was signed by the Government and some of the rebels. UN officials have said they fear the crisis might now spill over into neighbouring Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR).

The existing African Union (AU) peacekeeping force, known as AMIS, remains under-staffed and under-funded, and last month the Sudanese Government agreed with the UN and the AU for a three-phase reform culminating in an eventual hybrid UN-AU force taking over peacekeeping duties. But Khartoum has said repeatedly that it is opposed to blue helmets operating in Darfur.

In a joint interview with the UN News Centre, Mr. Cheadle, Ms. Loroupe and Mr. Cheek said they hoped they could use their celebrity status not so much to influence the leaders of Security Council members and other individual nations, but to maintain the public pressure and ensure the media stays focused on Darfur.

Mr. Cheadle, who was nominated for an Academy award for his performance in the film Hotel Rwanda, said the battle to protect Darfur’s civilians had reached a crucial stage, with the number of attacks on humanitarian workers and AMIS staff members rising sharply in recent months.

“In Rwanda there wasn’t anything done until there were bodies clogging up the rivers and the streets. That’s when the world decided it could no longer be ignored… By then, of course, it was too late,” he said.

Ms. Loroupe called on the AU and African governments to become much more aggressive in protecting civilians, and “to see that this is taking place in their house. Darfur is in their house and they have to clean their house.”

Mr. Cheek said that in their visit to Beijing, they stressed to Chinese officials that the world would be watching their actions extremely closely in the lead-up to the 2008 Summer Olympics, which will be held in the Chinese capital.

“I hope that Arab States and the likes of China and maybe even Russia will see that this is something in which we must all get involved to stop the crisis, and not see it as a Western ulterior motive,” he added.

Ends

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