SUDAN WATCH: Mia Farrow ends Darfur fast, Sir Richard Branson takes over

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mia Farrow ends Darfur fast, Sir Richard Branson takes over

Sir Richard Branson has taken on a three day fast to support 'the people of Darfur' even though many of them are either rebels or rebel supporters. I hope that the publicity generated by fasting celebrities helps people to think about how and why armies of rebels armed with rocket launchers are fighting for the deserts of Darfur which offer little to sustain any form of life. Why gun toting rebels are not classed as criminals but are free to do as they please is beyond my understanding.

May 8, 2009 Reuters report by Louis Charbonneau - excerpt:
Mia Farrow ends Darfur fast, Branson takes over
Actress Mia Farrow, ailing after almost two weeks on a hunger strike, announced on Friday that British billionaire Richard Branson would take over her protest in solidarity with people in Sudan's Darfur region.

A Farrow spokesman said her health had deteriorated in the past few days and her doctor requested that she end the liquids-only fast she began 12 days ago to protest at Khartoum's expulsion of more than a dozen aid agencies from Darfur.

Farrow asked Branson to take over the fast, her statement said, adding that the British entrepreneur had accepted and would begin a three-day hunger strike on Friday.

"I'm honoured to be taking over the fast for the next three days," the founder of the Virgin Group said in a statement on his blog.

"We cannot stand and watch as 1 million people suffer. We all need to stand up and demand that international aid is restored and that the people of Darfur are protected and given the chance to live in peace."

Farrow's spokesman said last month that her doctor expected the slightly built actress could not fast for more than three weeks.

Farrow, who was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N. children's agency UNICEF in 2000, has been campaigning for years to raise funds for children in conflict zones such as Darfur, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Chad and Nigeria. [...] (Editing by Bill Trott)
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From Richard Branson's blog May 8, 2009:
Starting my three day fast to support the people of Darfur
Mia Farrow has long been committed to the people of Darfur. Over the last 12 days she has been fasting on only liquids in order to raise awareness for the horrible crisis unfolding in Darfur with the removal of 13 international aid agencies. Mia’s health has taken a downturn over the last couple of days and her doctor has asked her to stop immediately. I have been asked by Mia to take over the fast starting next week, but I have also now asked Mia to stop and I am starting my three day fast today to continue to ask world leaders to take immediate action and demand that international aid is restored.

I’m honoured to be taking over the fast for the next three days from Mia Farrow in her courageous stance to support the people of Darfur. Over a year and a half ago, I travelled to Darfur and was horrified by the stories that people of all ages shared with us. Young children had watched their entire family get killed and then had to survive on their own in unimaginable conditions. I was humbled and inspired by the courage of the Darfuri people and the commitment of the aid organisations that were working on the frontlines. Now, with 13 aid organisations expelled from the country, over 1m people are at grave risk. We cannot stand and watch as 1m people suffer. We all need to stand up and demand that international aid is restored and that the people of Darfur are protected and given the chance to live in peace.

Please join us and get involved in supporting the people of Darfur by going to and taking action.
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From Hollywood Insider May 9, 2009 by Christine Spines:
Exclusive: Sir Richard Branson talks about taking over Mia Farrow's hunger fast for Darfur
When Mia Farrow ended her 12-day hunger strike to draw attention to the plight of refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan, Virgin music and airline entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson agreed to step in and continue the fast for three days. On the first day of his endeavor, Branson spoke with EW exclusively about the value of peaceful protest and his strategies for surviving on an empty stomach.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did you decide to make such a personal commitment to this cause?

RICHARD BRANSON: I've been to Darfur and spent a lot of time with Darfurians and I know first hand what they've been through and what they're going through. So I think that anything that can be done should be done. If you look at the history of conflict resolutions around the world, the best ones are peaceful ways of resolving conflicts. So every method should be tried. Mia Farrow's been unbelievably brave. And when she asked me to step into her shoes for three days, I must admit I thought I got off lightly. Although this is the first evening and I certainly could do with a decent meal already. I just had a couple games of chess with somebody who doesn't normally beat me, and he beat me both times.

When did you make the decision to do this?

Mia contacted me through a mutual friend about a week ago, and I said the moment she needs help I'd be happy to step into her shoes.

Why you? Had you already put it out there that you were willing to participate?

No, no. It was just a call out of the blue. But it was a call from someone who is one of the supporters of The Elders, a group of 12 international leaders I've set up with Peter Gabriel, headed up by Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Tutu. They go into conflict regions and try to resolve conflict. They've done some magnificent work. Sometimes that kind of intervention can work.

Sometimes the United Nations can work. On other occasions other forms of peaceful protest, like this one, can and may work.

It's by no means guaranteed. So, based on my involvement with that, she knew it was likely that I'd say yes.

I'm sure you've contributed money to charities throughout your career. But is this the most personal thing you've done to create political change?

This is the first time I've deprived my stomach to get political change. I'm a great believer in doing everything once in life. So it'll be interesting to see how one can cope. She said that if they haven't found anybody else to take over after three days they might extend it, so I'm hoping they get somebody else.

Do you know if anyone else has raised their hand to do it next?

I know Peter Gabriel said he's willing to put his hand up as well. But I think you'll find that there are a lot of people around the world willing.

Do you think this fast will keep being handed off from person to person until you see the change you're seeking?

I'm sure it will. And in fact, just yesterday, there was a bit of a breakthrough: The Darfurian government said that they're now willing to let some aid agencies into the country. They won't let the ones they kicked out back in, but they've indicated they might let some other organizations in. It may well have been due to the publicity around Mia's hunger strike to date. So I think they'll keep it up until they're absolutely sure that's going to happen and it's not just a public relations move on the Darfur government's side.

So the main goal with the fast is to pressure the Darfur government to allow international aid groups back into the refugee camps?

Exactly. And it's going to be up to a group like The Elders to work out a long-term peace agreement to insure fair elections and a long term resolution of the Darfurian issue. But the immediate thing is to make sure people don't die unnecessarily.
Did Mia give you any tips on surviving a hunger strike?

I haven't spoken to her directly. I've been walking around and expending lots of energy -– all the things I shouldn't be doing. I'm trying not to be grumpy with friends. That's the key thing. And remembering what we're doing it for: There are people starving as a result of the government's decision to expel the aid agencies. And in four-day's time, I'll have a big meal whereas people in Darfur won't.
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UN slams rebel assault in eastern Chad
From AFP Friday, 8 May 2009
UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The UN Security Council on Friday unanimously condemned the ongoing military incursion in eastern Chad by Chadian rebels who came from across the Sudanese border.

All 15 ambassadors endorsed a non-binding, French-drafted statement that "condemns the renewed military incursions in eastern Chad of Chadian armed groups, coming from outside," meaning neighboring Sudan.

Their statement expressed "concern at the external support received by Chadian armed groups, as reported by (UN) Secretary General (Ban Ki-moon)."

It stressed that "any attempt at destabilization of Chad by force is unacceptable" and demanded that "rebel armed groups cease violence immediately and calls on all parties to reengage in dialogue" in the framework of an inter-Chadian peace deal reached in Libya in October 2007.

The council began its meeting earlier in the day at the request of Chad's UN ambassador Ahmad Allam-Mi, who accused Khartoum of "aggression" aimed at toppling the Ndjamena government only days after the two neighbors signed a reconciliation accord in the Qatari capital Doha.

Khartoum has "equipped and trained a subversive force on a tribal basis, whose only goal is to overthrow the legitimate government in Chad," he told the council.

"The Security Council must openly condemn the (Sudanese) regime for its repeated attacks on my country."

Earlier Friday, Chadian government forces fought desert battles against the rebels stepping up an offensive against President Idriss Deby, with at least 247 reported dead in two days of conflict.

The fighting, centered on the eastern town of Am-Dam, has heightened concerns among United Nations agencies and aid groups caring for about 450,000 refugees from Sudan and the Central African Republic.

Confirming new clashes, Chadian Communications Minister Mahamat Hissene said 225 rebels had been killed, with another 212 taken prisoner, 127 of their vehicles seized and 93 destroyed.

On the government side, 22 soldiers were killed and 31 wounded, he said.

The army on Thursday said 125 rebels and 21 soldiers had been killed in clashes at Deressa, half-way between Am-Dam and Abeche, the main city in eastern Chad.

The Security Council statement meanwhile also appealed to Sudan and Chad to "respect and fully implement their mutual commitments" in peace deals reached in Doha on May 3 and in Dakar on March 13, 2008.

And it expressed "deep concern at the direct threat the activity of armed groups poses for the safety of the civilian population and the conduct of humanitarian operations."

Dmitry Titov, a senior official at the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, earlier briefed the council ambassadors, citing cited UN reports on Tuesday of three main rebel columns observed in Darfur, including two that later moved into eastern Chad.

"The third remained in static position across the border in Darfur, west of El Geneina," he said, citing the reports. "Reports on the actual sizes of the columns vary, but each column is believed to number anywhere between 50 and 100 vehicles."

Sudan's UN ambassador Abdalmahmud Abdalhaleem Mohamad took a swipe at France, Chad's main backer and former colonial ruler.

"We're fed up with those statements written at the French (UN) mission and sent in the name of Chad to the Security Council," he said, referring to Chad's request for the Security Council meeting. "We know it very well ... They (the French) wrote it."

France, which has troops in Chad, has been anxiously watching events. The European Union and African Union have both condemned the Chadian rebel offensive.

Chad has bombed the rebels from planes and helicopters since they crossed the Sudanese border Monday.

Ndjamena accuses Sudan of backing the Union of Resistance Forces (UFR) rebels, who have vowed to take the capital Ndjamena.

"Whenever Chad is planning something, they come to the Security Council to cover up and camouflage their support for JEM," the most active rebel group in the Sudanese western region of Darfur, Mohamad said.

"What is happening in Chad is an internal affair," he added, asserting that the Chadian allegations against Khartoum were made "to cover its domestic failures."

Peace between Chad and Sudan is regarded as key for any lasting settlement to the six-year-old conflict in Darfur.

In February 2008, Chadian rebels battled their way to the gates of the presidential palace in Ndjamena before being beaten back.


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