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US presses Sudan as Clooney voices outrage


US actor George Clooney testifies on Sudan and South Sudan before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. By Saul Loeb (AFP)

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States on Wednesday urged Sudan to allow food shipments in immediately to avert a humanitarian disaster, as Hollywood star George Clooney accused the Khartoum government of war crimes.

US officials warned that some 250,000 people risked going hungry in the troubled South Kordofan region as they testified before a Senate committee, which drew an unusually large media spotlight as Clooney joined them.

Princeton Lyman, the US special envoy on Sudan, said that the mountainous region was on track for "a major humanitarian crisis" due to persistent bombings by government forces that have impeded agriculture.

The United States has told Sudan that it "must allow international humanitarian access and that the world can't stand by -- certainly the United States could not stand by -- and watch a crisis unfold if the government does not take action," Lyman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Clooney, who first spoke Tuesday in New York hours after flying back from Sudan, accused the Sudanese government forces of committing war crimes with attacks on civilians -- including a rocket strike that he said he narrowly escaped.

A longtime critic of Sudan over the separate conflict in Darfur, Clooney told the Senate committee that President Omar al-Bashir and his aides are "proving themselves to be the greatest war criminals of this century by far."

South Sudan became independent in July following two decades of war. US President Barack Obama initially took cautious steps to reconcile with Sudan, pleased that it accepted the secession of its south.

But a separate conflict broke out soon afterward in South Kordofan and nearby Blue Nile state, with Khartoum fighting insurgents once allied to the former rebels who now rule South Sudan.

Lyman acknowledged the need to address concerns by Khartoum, saying that Sudanese leaders fear another breakup of the country and have "a deep suspicion of the motives of the international community" in pressing for access.

"The US has repeatedly stressed to the government of South Sudan the need to end all support -- military, economic and logistical -- to armed groups aiming to overthrow the government of Sudan by force," Lyman said.

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