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Thwarted Clooney gives Darfur message at U.N.

THE WORLD

February 01, 2008|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — George Clooney said Thursday that his new role as a U.N. Messenger of Peace is one of his most difficult yet, especially because he wasn't exactly allowed to deliver his message.

Clooney, the ninth U.N. peace envoy, was scheduled to address a meeting of troop-contributing nations about conditions faced by the peacekeeping force in Sudan's troubled western region.

The actor recently visited Darfur with U.N. peacekeeping officials and said he saw that a lack of helicopters and other equipment was hindering the force's efforts to protect civilians and itself.

But representatives of Russia and other countries at the meeting objected to an actor telling them how to handle the crisis -- and he was asked not to speak after all.

Instead, Clooney told reporters at the U.N. what he would have said to the envoys.

"There are some groups protecting 250 square kilometers [nearly 100 square miles] of desert with no helicopters and no radios that work," he said. "So either give them the basic tools for protecting the population, and themselves, or have the decency to just bring them all home. Because you can't do it half way."

No new pledges came out of the troop contributors meeting, peacekeeping officials said. The U.N. is considering buying some of the needed 24 helicopters, and then recruiting pilots trained to fly them in conflict zones, said Assistant Secretary-General Jane Holl Lute.

Clooney toured U.N. headquarters with his parents, Nick and Nina, and waved to hundreds of star-struck staffers who came out of their offices to take pictures of him with cellphone cameras.

He also kept talking about the problems in the world.

Clooney traveled last year to China and Egypt, seeking to persuade Sudan's allies to use their leverage with Khartoum to solve the nearly 5-year-long crisis that has resulted in more than 200,000 deaths.

"Millions are homeless, not from famine or disease or acts of God, but from a well-armed militia intent on ridding the land of its people," he said.

Acknowledging that the leaders he would like to move most seem to be among those immune to his charms, he joked:

"I think I've lost my touch. But I'm going to bring in Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, and get all the really good-looking guys in there."

Clooney has been a visible advocate for groups such as Save Darfur and a co-founder of Not on Our Watch, which raised more than $9.3 million to aid and protect people in the region.

In an interview, he said that what he does best is not so much push policy as attract attention.

"If I'm going to go somewhere that cameras are going to follow me," he said, "they might as well follow me to places that people should be looking at."

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maggie.farley@latimes.com

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