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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.

It was reported today that dozens were killed during three days of clashes in Abyei. The failure to agree on whether the nomadic Arab Misseriya people would be eligible to vote in Abyei alongside the Ngok Dinka tribe meant the referendum did not go ahead there on Sunday, even though the rest of the South lined up to vote.

Thirteen Misseriya have been killed and 38 wounded since Friday, according to tribal leaders. And 22 Ngok Dinkas have also been killed in the clashes, according to a district administrator, who said the fighting is continuing.

United Nations peacekeepers have been dispatched to the area to investigate the claims between rival northern and southern tribesmen in the fertile, oil-producing area outside Abyei town.

None of this surprised Clooney who warned that the ongoing mediation efforts in Abyei were no more than “putting a band aid on a gunshot wound.”

“Abyei is much worse now than in October,” he said. “They are depressed; they feel abandoned by the South and threatened by the North.

“The Ngok Dinka are resolute they will not share the land with the Misseriya and they are willing to go to war: they are ready, and when we were there,” he added, “really ready.”

The annual seasonal migration of northern Misseriya Arabs through the homelands of the Ngok Dinka people is a flashpoint that quickly sparks violence.

Clooney said the answer is, “smart, get-your-hands-dirty diplomacy.” Information is also fundamental and Clooney has helped to fund surveillance by satellite of Abyei and the tense border region to keep tabs on troop build-ups.

“Even the United Nations can’t get the images we can,” he said of the Sentinel Satellite Project. “We can’t see if it’s 15 guys on horseback with machineguns coming to attack, but we can see 20,000 troops moving into the area,” he explained. The images will be released to provide proof of any movements of soldiers and weapons that might indicate impending conflict.

Clooney emphasized the need for continued attention on the Abyei border area between North and South Sudan.

“If you underestimate the importance of that area, all of this can fall apart," he warned. "All of this joy and happiness can turn into the bloodiest war of the 21st century.”

George Clooney in Sudan South Sudan independence graphic South Sudan wrestler
Photos: Clooney in Sudan South Sudan on the brink South Sudan wrestling