Clooney, Google, UN watch Sudan using satellites

NEW YORK, (Reuters) – Groups including the United  Nations, Harvard University, Google Inc and an organization  co-founded by actor George Clooney are launching a project  using satellites to “watch” Sudan for war crimes before a vote  that could split the African country in two.

The Satellite Sentinel Project, which begins today,  is meant to provide an “early warning system” for human rights  and security violations before the Jan. 9 referendum on whether  to divide Sudan into north and south.

“We want to let potential perpetrators of genocide and  other war crimes know that we’re watching, the world is  watching,” Clooney said in a statement.

The satellite project received funding for six months from  Not On Our Watch, an organization co-founded by Clooney and his  Hollywood friends, actors Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt,  David Pressman and producer Jerry Weintraub.

The group has been active in raising money to help the many  displaced people in the Darfur region of western Sudan, which  has been ravaged by war and genocide.

Clooney told Time magazine in an article posted on its  website that he came up with the idea three months ago when he  was in Sudan meeting refugees from its last civil war. He  called it “the anti-genocide paparazzi,” referring to  photographers who follow celebrities taking their pictures.

Under the project, commercial satellites over northern and  southern Sudan will photograph any burned and bombed villages,  mass movements of people, or other evidence of violence.

The United Nations’ UNOSAT program will collect and analyze  the images, Harvard’s Humanitarian Initiative will provide  research, more analysis and corroboration from field reports  from the anti-genocide Enough Project, Google and Trellon Llc, an Internet development firm,  designed a Web platform for public access to information with  the goal of pressuring Sudanese officials and other groups.

People in Sudan’s oil-rich south are widely expected to  vote to split away and form a new country in the referendum  that was part of a 2005 peace deal ending civil war between  north and south.

Ahead of the referendum, violence has already flared. Last  week, members of the opposition Umma Party said they were  beaten and tear-gassed by Sudanese police when they left a  meeting to attend a mosque for Friday prayers.

On Dec. 24, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden phoned Sudanese  Second Vice President Ali Osman Mohmed Taha to express  Washington’s concern about violence leading up to the vote.

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