Clooney marks new UN posting with plea for African support

Fresh off a visit to Africa, Hollywood actor and new United Nations peace envoy George Clooney appealed on Thursday for increased UN support for the continent.

Fresh off a visit to Africa, Hollywood actor and new United Nations peace messenger George Clooney appealed on Thursday for increased UN support for the continent.

Actor George Clooney, right, accompanied by his parents Nick, left, and Nina, arrives at UN headquarters on Thursday after being named the world body's messenger of peace. ((David Karp/Associated Press))

The Academy Award-winning actor toured the UN headquarters in New York to mark being named the world body's messenger of peace before holding a brief news conference.

Clooney took on the job of promoting UN peacekeeping missions after waging his own campaigns for an end to the 4½-year war in Sudan's Darfur region and more humanitarian aid for the millions caught up in the conflict.

UN peacekeepers in Darfur — made up mostly of African Union soldiers — are waiting for months of outstanding paycheques, equipment and 17,000 extra troops, said Clooney.

Give them what they need or have the decency to bring them all home, he said.

"Bring them home, and shut off your TV, and your radio, and your phone and the internet. Go back into your offices and wait until it's all over. It shouldn't take too long before they start hoping the UN will show up," he said.

He appealed to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to offer full support to peacekeepers already in the country. Al-Bashir resisted any peacekeeping force for months, but last year agreed to a hybrid UN-African Union force.

"These are not an occupying force. They are not there to spread democracy or to infringe on religious beliefs," said Clooney. "You can't obstruct the peacekeepers. You have asked for humanitarian aid — humanitarians cannot work without protection from rebel attacks."

Clooney and Jane Holl Lute, the UN's assistant secretary general of peacekeeping operations, recently visited 19 African sites in 14 days. They visited Darfur, the Central African Republic, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He also visited India, a major contributor of UN peacekeeping troops.

Clooney, a nominee for best actor for next month's Academy Awards for the legal drama Michael Clayton, missed the recent Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles to attend to his UN duties.

Hears pleas of rape victims

At Thursday's news conference, he praised the UN as more than a collective of states, but as an "entity unto itself."

Clooney said he visited a hospital during his recent trip to Africa and met with women victims of rape.

"They looked up at me and said please send the UN. Not the U.S., not China, not Russia. You're their only hope," he said.

Clooney was named to the post two weeks ago by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, saying celebrity can help shine the spotlight on an issue.

"Celebrity can bring that focus. You can bring a camera where you go because they'll follow you and you can shine a light on it," said Clooney. "That seems to be my job. I'm very proud of this."

Other messengers of peace include Michael Douglas, Elie Wiesel, Jane Goodall, Yo-Yo Ma, Daniel Barenboim, Paulo Coelho, Midori Goto and Princess Haya of Jordan.

With files from the Associated Press