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George Clooney on Sudan: Vote is progress

But actor urges "smart, get-hands-dirty diplomacy" to resolve trouble in Abyei border area.

JUBA, South Sudan — Sweaty, dusty, often smelly and mostly poor, Juba is not the kind of place you expect to find Hollywood actor George Clooney.

But here he is, sitting on a plastic chair beneath a mango tree, intently discussing the birth pains of a new nation.

“Sudan has such great potential and such great risk so it requires the attention of the world,” Clooney told GlobalPost. He warned that diplomatic action is needed to avoid violence in the disputed Abyei border area.

This is Clooney’s second trip to Sudan in three months, visits during which he is using his star power to shed some light on an ignored and troubled part of the world.

“I keep coming back to keep the attention on it,” he said. “I’ve always felt as if the more light that is shed on a subject, the less ability for humanitarian crisis to happen. I’ve been committed to [Sudan] since 2005 and you don’t abandon a place when it’s going through its changes.”

In October, the 49-year-old actor spent a week criss-crossing the vast region. Now he has taken time out from directing a movie to return for another five days. Clooney travels to Sudan with John Prendergast, director of the Enough Project, an anti-genocide group that has focused on Sudan.

“Everybody has their thing that they’re into, some people like to skydive …” Clooney said with a smile. “There’s a lot worse ways to spend your time than coming down here and attempting to look out for people.”

Wearing an untucked safari shirt, Levi’s jeans, hiking boots and sporting a neatly trimmed gray goatee and healthy tan, Clooney looked relaxed in the dusty setting. But he displayed an in-depth understanding of the tricky issues that threaten to derail southern Sudan’s independence.

He said he was “optimistic” about the referendum that began on Sunday. Voting by 3.9 million southerners is set to continue until Saturday. Southern Sudan is voting to determine whether to become independent from the rest of Sudan.

“Nobody thought the vote was going to go off, and go off peacefully, but it is,” he said. Clooney added that he believed the southern leadership headed by southern Sudan President Salva Kiir had the ability to build a functioning government and country.

On Sunday, Clooney was in Juba greeting Kiir as the politician prepared to cast the first ballot in a referendum that is likely to split Africa’s biggest country.

Clooney, speaking to a press conference, said he was moved by how much the people of southern Sudan had suffered for their independence.

"It's been 55 years of marching, fighting and dying. Today marks the first step toward independence. It's not often in your lifetime that you get to see the birth of a nation. It's an honor for me to be here. I'm proud to stand among such brave individuals," said Clooney, speaking with U.S. Senator John Kerry and John Prendergast. (Video courtesy of Enough Project)


Clooney had just returned from Abyei, the disputed border region that is a tinderbox of North-South tensions. It is the place most likely to witness an outbreak of fighting in the weeks ahead as the South votes and results are tallied and Clooney stressed the election and independence process "can only be a success if Abyei is addressed and if Darfur is addressed."