World can prevent violence in Sudan: George Clooney

Last Updated: Oct 13, 2010, 09:23 AM IST

Washington: Actor and activist George Clooney said after meeting President Barack Obama Tuesday that the world can prevent violence around south Sudan`s independence vote, without any cost in money or lives.

The Hollywood star also called for more involvement from European nations in preventative diplomacy and for the use of "carrots" and "some pretty prickly sticks" to ensure January`s referendum is peaceful.

Clooney, who is just back from south Sudan, said a concerted diplomatic effort would help ease fears that the vote, which could split the country, may plunge Sudan into a new cycle of violence.

"We have got 90 days to do this, it doesn`t cost a dime and it doesn`t cost any lives and no American troops. This is not a right or left issue," Clooney said after Oval Office talks with the president.

Clooney met Obama less than three weeks after the president made an impassioned personal intervention at a high-level diplomatic meeting on Sudan`s future at the United Nations in New York.

In Tuesday`s meeting, Obama "underscored the intensity of the United States` efforts to ensure that the referendum be held on time and to urge the parties to choose the path of peace over renewed violence," said Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman.

The president also discussed the US "diplomatic and development surge" in the south, the powerful signal of support for peace sent by the UN meeting last month and the ongoing work of US officials in the region, Vietor said.

"The president noted that while the United States will work with the international community to continue to do all we can to ensure a peaceful and timely referendum, ultimate responsibility for Sudan`s future rests with its political leaders."

South Sudan, which fought a two-decade civil war against the north that ended in a 2005 peace deal, is set to vote on whether to secede or remain part of the country in a January 9 referendum.

Earlier on Tuesday, Sudan`s President Omar al-Bashir said he would not accept an alternative to unity despite his commitment to a peace deal with the south that offers an independence referendum.

The peace deal gave the former southern rebels, the Sudan People`s Liberation Movement, semi-autonomous powers and a share in government, and promised a referendum on southern independence.Analysts say the vote is expected to favor independence.

"This is a time now where the people of south Sudan have been enslaved and have been sold and have been raped and slaughtered for generations and they earned the right to vote for their freedom in 2005," Clooney said.

"They believe they have the right come January 9. They are going to vote in that way, it appears, and they seemed very resolute."

But he warned that the world should heed the history of the Sudanese government and guard against the possibility it would disrupt the vote.

"Left alone in a vacuum this government will act aggressively," the actor said.

Clooney also called on some European nations which he said were not being sufficiently tough on Khartoum to increase pressure on the Bashir government.

Bashir "is not spending his money in Sudanese pounds, it is in euros, it is in other forms, we need to find out where that money is and freeze it," Clooney said.

"There are pressures that we can put on the government that we in many ways in the United States have already used up -- short of military power -- and no one is suggesting that."

John Prendergast, founder of the Enough Project which fights to end genocide, who was also in the meeting, said Obama was "very focused, very knowledgeable about the details, very in control of the policy.

"This is a breath of fresh air, it gives a chance to the diplomacy," Prendergast added.

"The US being in the game, in support of the African Union peace process is potentially the game changer that the Sudanese people have been looking for."

Clooney, star of "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "Oceans 11," won an Oscar in 2006 for his role as a CIA agent in the oil industry thriller "Syriana."

Obama warned at the UN on September 24 that the fate of millions lay in the balance in Sudan.

"What happens in Sudan in the days ahead may decide whether people who have endured too much war move towards peace or slip backwards to bloodshed," Obama said.

"What happens in Sudan matters to all of sub-Saharan Africa and it matters to the world."

Bureau Report