Hollywood actor George Clooney and human rights activist John Prendergast have urged world leaders not to turn their backs on Sudan, where a referendum on southern independence threatens to bring about renewed violence.
“The international community needs to mount a diplomatic solution to prevent Sudan from plunging into fresh violence,” Hollywood actor George Clooney told FRANCE 24 on Wednesday.
Clooney and human rights activist John Prendergast, the founder of the Enough Project, an advocacy group that works to prevent genocide and war crimes, have returned from a visit to South Sudan, where residents are preparing to vote on whether to secede from the north in a January 9 referendum.
South Sudan, which is mainly Christian and animist, fought a two-decade civil war against the predominently Muslim north. Some 1.5 million people died in the conflict, either from fighting or through disease and famine.
A peace deal signed in 2005 finally brought an end to the war. It ruled that the south should be allowed to hold a referendum on independence.
On Tuesday Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Crimes Court under charges of genocide, said he would not accept an alternative to unity, despite his declared commitment to the peace deal.
“There is a tremendous amount of oil involved. Omar al-Bashir doesn’t want to come out losing the south, losing the oil revenue. This is a tinder box and there are a lot of matches being lit,” Clooney said.
Clooney said the referendum is expected to result in favour of independence for the south.
“They [people of South Sudan] have been enslaved, tortured, raped and murdered for generations, but they won the right to vote for their freedom in 2005 and they will on January 9,” the Hollywood actor said.
Clooney also warned that the authorities in Khartoum were more than likely to take military action in order to disrupt the vote.
Prendergast urged the Americans and Europeans to work with the African Union to create the conditions for a peaceful solution that could accommodate both parties.
“We need to restore the partnership that helped end Sudan’s civil war in 2005,” he told FRANCE 24.
Clooney and Prendergast also met US President Barack Obama on Tuesday to brief him on their visit to South Sudan, particularly to the Abyei region, a disputed oil-rich area straddling the border between north and south.
Appealing to the international community, Clooney said: “We’ve got 88 days to carve something out. We were late for Congo, we were late for Rwanda, and we were late for Darfur. We come in and mop up a mess and spend billions of dollars doing it.”
This is an opportunity to stop it before it happens. The situation requires sustained attention.”