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George Clooney meets with President Obama to talk about Sudan

George Clooney on Tuesday did what only George Clooney can do -- use his status as a world-renowned celebrity to bring attention to the ongoing crisis in the African country of Sudan, located in a part of the world that most Americans simply ignore.

Depending on one’s politics, there has been an ongoing civil war or rebellion in western Sudan’s Darfur region since 2003 that has created one of the world’s seemingly unsolvable humanitarian and diplomatic crisis. There is no agreement on the numbers, but most independent agencies put the death toll at around 300,000 people and 2.7 million people forced to flee their homes in the battle between Arab militias, backed by the central government, and black Christian and animist Africans.

Sudan’s president, Omar Bashir, has been accused of war crimes in connection with the Darfur situation.

As the visible warfare has slowed a bit in Darfur, Sudan fell off of the media map, but the decades of strife in the south between Arabs and Christians and animists continued to increase. On Jan. 9, Sudan will hold a mandated referendum on what to do there, with the likely outcome some form of declaration of independence.

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The central government in the capital of Khartoum opposes independence for the oil-rich southern region so the mechanics of the vote have lagged, raising suspicions over its validity.

President Obama has repeatedly called for resolving the problems in Sudan. Darfur has become a leading cause for some Hollywood stars, including Clooney, who traveled to Washington on Tuesday to meet with Obama, congressional leaders and foreign-policy experts on the Sudan situation before the referendum.

Clooney warned that the United States needed to get ahead of the Sudan issue and called for a “robust diplomacy,  a real robust diplomacy.” He said the United States needed to talk to the central government and had to be prepared to offer “some carrots and that means offering some pretty prickly sticks along the way.”

Clooney said the United States was good at such bargaining.

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“One thing we’re good at is negotiating,” he told reporters.

In 2007, Clooney produced a documentary about the Darfur crisis.

michael.muskal@latimes.com

twitter.com@LATimesmuskal

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