Clooney In Sudan For Independence Referendum

(ITN)

Actor George Clooney is back in Sudan as voters in the south of the country prepare to cast ballots in a referendum likely to result in a split from the Khartoum-based north.

The seven day referendum begins on Sunday. If the referendum passes, the oil-rich but underdeveloped south will break away from the north, which is ruled by the National Congress Party, an Islamic party led by President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur.

The war in Darfur, in western Sudan and separate to the former north-south conflict, has claimed at least 300-thousand lives, since it began in 2003, through violence, disease and displacement.

George Clooney said: ""This is just the first step in a long road to peace... issues on the upper Nile and particularly in Abyei can completely destroy this peace process pretty quickly.""

Highlighting the deep problems of the war ravaged country, two rebel groups clashed with southern Sudan's military ahead of the referendum, resulting in at least nine deaths, and a top security chief said on Saturday he suspected the groups were trying to depress voter turnout.

Clooney said Sudan was still fragile but that, ""there's a real chance for success and if it works it's a great model for all the other ones.""
ITN