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Cheadle acts to stop Darfur genocide

Story Highlights

• Don Cheadle says traveling to Darfur left him a changed man
• Actor: Seeing atrocities up close inspired him to take action
• Cheadle, John Prendergast team up for book on Darfur crisis
• U.N. estimates more than 200,000 killed, 2.5 million displaced
From Aspen Steib
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Actor Don Cheadle has a new mission in life: raising awareness about the atrocities being carried out in what the United Nations says is the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Cheadle traveled throughout western Sudan's Darfur region in 2005, and the trip left him a changed man, so much so it was difficult to come back to "my comfortable life and take stock in all the privileges ... and do nothing," he said.

The "Hotel Rwanda" star teamed up with human rights activist John Prendergast to write "Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond" (Hyperion), which arrived in bookstores this week.

It chronicles the Darfur crisis and urges readers to take action to stop genocide there and across the globe. (Watch the 'biggest emergency operation in the world' Video)

Cheadle and Prendergast spoke with CNN during a recent book tour that brought them to the nation's capital. They are hoping the book will draw attention to what's happening in Darfur -- where the United Nations estimates 200,000 people have been killed and another 2.5 million displaced since the conflict flared in 2003.

"[I] really try to feel what it would possibly be like to have been attacked and trudged through miles and miles and miles of desert," Cheadle said.

Cheadle and Prendergast detail what they saw throughout Darfur and outline how people can take action.

"It is urgent that President Bush act ... to confront the Sudanese regime for the atrocities that it is committing and perpetuating to bring this genocide to an end once and for all," they write.

The book lists six steps for readers to get involved, beginning with raising awareness and then campaigning to bring an end to the crisis.

Prendergast, a former Clinton administration official who is a senior adviser to the International Crisis Group, urges the U.S. government to pressure the Sudanese regime to take action against the militias that have ravaged Darfur.

"These guys will respond to significant measures," he said.

There is one image from Darfur that haunts Prendergast. He was traveling through the desert with a colleague when they came across the bodies of about 24 young men left to rot in the 130-degree heat.

"No amount of time in Sudan or work on genocide ever prepares anyone sufficiently for what Samantha and I saw in a ravine deep in the Darfur desert," Prendergast writes.

"One month before, they had been civilians, forced to walk up a hill to be executed by Sudanese government forces. Harrowingly, this scene was repeated throughout the targeted areas of Darfur."

The United States has called the atrocities of Darfur this century's first genocide.

The Darfur crisis began in February 2003 when black Sudanese rebels attacked government property, accusing the government of neglecting Darfur in favor of the country's Arab population in northern Sudan.

The government is accused of arming the pro-government Arab Janjaweed militia, whose members have raped, killed and tortured Darfur civilians.

Cheadle said he finds it disturbing the mainstream media gives so little attention to the killings in Darfur, while crime stories in the United States will be reported on ad nauseam.

"The media loves when they have a little piece of tape that they can run over and over. I just think that it really does a disservice," Cheadle said.

While the actor and Prendergast are hoping to bring about an end to the atrocities, they also acknowledge it's a daunting task.

"Preventing genocide and other mass atrocities is a challenge made all the more difficult by a lack of public concern, media coverage, and effective response, especially to events in Africa," they write.

Don Cheadle testifies on the Darfur crisis before a Senate subcommittee in February.


• The United Nations estimates more than 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur and 2.5 million displaced.

• The U.N. calls the situation the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

• Darfur is in western Sudan.

• Sudan has a population of about 39 million people.

• Conflict began in February 2003 when black Sudanese rebels attacked government property, accusing the government of neglecting Darfur in favor of the country's Arab population in northern Sudan.

• The Arab Janjaweed is a pro-government militia accused of killing, raping and burning homes and villages in Darfur.

• Cease-fire agreements have not been able to hold.

• The U.N. has pushed for a bigger role to try to help resolve the crisis.


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