Stars Come Out for Darfur Refugees

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George Clooney and others are showing diplomats the way to action in the face of the Darfurs refugee crisis. They're visiting countries with influence on Sudan: Egypt and China.


The African Union warned today that the humanitarian crisis in Sudan's Darfur region is growing worse. The A.U. said the Janjaweed militias terrorizing the black African population have re-armed and returned. The A.U. blamed the Sudanese government for insisting on using force to resolve the conflict, a charge the government denies.

The slaughter in Darfur has prompted mass rallies and a huge public awareness campaign in the United States, and it's spurred celebrities to action. George Clooney and other actors and athletes have just returned from a diplomatic mission to countries with influence over Sudan.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Earlier in the year, George Clooney set out with his father on a high-profile visit to refugee camps that house victims of what the U.S. has called a genocide in Darfur. But on his latest trip, he took a different approach. He told reporters at the United Nations Friday that since diplomatic efforts to resolve Darfur has stalled, he figured he ought to go visit Sudan's friends, China and Egypt.

Mr. GEORGE CLOONEY (Actor): We did what all of you do, which is we looked around and we said, okay, who are the players that actually have influence with the government of Khartoum? Who are those players that actually have al-Bashir's ear?

KELEMEN: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has blocked the U.N. from taking over a weak and under-funded African Union monitoring force in Darfur, and hasn't accepted the idea of a joint A.U.-U.N. force that would at least provide some security for millions of people displaced in the conflict.

In Egypt, Clooney said he found himself just trying to explain to people that the U.S. is only interested in helping end the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, and is not seeking to overthrow Sudan's government. He's starting to sound like a real public diplomacy officer.

Mr. CLOONEY: There are talks and more talks about who started the fight, who's responsible, who's to blame. And the only people who didn't start this fight are not responsible and are not to blame suffer and die.

KELEMEN: Clooney believes the trip paid off.

Mr. CLOONEY: Egypt's foreign minister met with us and offered to supply a large number of Egyptian doctors and humanitarians to help fill the void left by the aid workers that have been forced to leave. And they are leaving at a great, alarming number.

KELEMEN: George Clooney was traveling with actor Don Cheadle, Kenyan Olympic runner Tegla Loroupe, and U.S. speed skater Joey Cheek, who tried his hand at diplomacy in China. Cheek said he appealed to officials there to uphold Olympic ideals and not turn a blind eye to the suffering in Darfur.

Mr. JOEY CHEEK (Olympic Speed Skater): Going into 2008 in the Beijing Olympics, they're hosting this and they're really looking at this as a coming out party. And this is their chance to show on a world stage that they are not a backwards country, not a Third World country, they are really and truly a world superpower.

KELEMEN: China is Sudan's biggest oil partner and is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, with power to veto any punitive measures against the government in Khartoum. But Cheek said it was too delicate to challenge China's oil deals with Sudan. He chose the more diplomatic route, talking about humanitarian values.

The crisis in Darfur has drawn a great deal of star power here in the U.S. Actor Don Cheadle, who starred in the movie "Hotel Rwanda," about the Rwandan genocide, said actors, athletes and others will continue to speak out as long as it takes.

Mr. DON CHEADLE (Actor): We don't have a crystal ball. We don't know how far we will be needed. Hopefully, we will be able to hand this off to people who are much more qualified and much more positioned to actually do something that will be effective.

KELEMEN: But for the time being, his colleague, actor George Clooney, says the U.N. Security Council seems to be handcuffed, passing resolutions that don't make a difference on the ground.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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