Nobel laureates press China over Darfur

WASHINGTON Tue Feb 12, 2008 9:44pm GMT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A group of Nobel Peace Prize laureates sent a letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao on Tuesday urging the Beijing Games host to uphold Olympic ideals by pressing its ally Sudan to stop atrocities in Darfur.

"As the primary economic, military and political partner of the Government of Sudan, and as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China has both the opportunity and the responsibility to contribute to a just peace in Darfur," said the letter.

"Ongoing failure to rise to this responsibility amounts, in our view, to support for a government that continues to carry out atrocities against its own people," said the letter, released on a day of events by the Save Darfur Coalition.

The letter was signed by Nobel Peace laureates Bishop Carlos Belo, Shirin Ebadi, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Rigoberta Menchu, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Elie Wiesel, Betty Williams and Jody Williams. Other signatories included politicians, Olympic medallists and entertainers.

U.S. actress Mia Farrow, who has spearheaded the coalition's global campaign to press China to change its policies in Sudan, gathered a crowd outside the Chinese mission to the United Nations in New York as she tried to deliver the letter.

"China hopes that these games will be its post-Tiananmen Square coming out party. But how can Beijing host the Olympic Games at home and underwrite genocide in Darfur?" she said, and stuffed the letter under the mission door after her knocks went unanswered.

In more than four years of conflict in Sudan's western region of Darfur, 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes, according to estimates from international experts. Khartoum says 9,000 people have died.

"HIGHER CALLING OF HUMANITY"

The letter to Hu acknowledged Chinese support for a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for the deployment of a U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force to Darfur.

"However, we note with dismay that the Chinese government worked to weaken the resolution before it passed," it said. The letter said China doubled its trade with Sudan in 2007 and continued its military relationship with the African country.

Ohio Republican Rep. Steve Chabot, one of 119 U.S. lawmakers to sign the letter, told reporters: "China has been an apologist for the Sudanese government. That has to stop."

The United States shared China's interest in Sudan's oil, "but there also has to be some call to a higher calling of humanity," said Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Michael Capuano, co-chairman of the Congressional Sudan Caucus.

Jody Williams, a U.S. citizen who won the prize in 1997 for her campaign against land mines, said she and fellow female laureates had formed the Nobel Women's Initiative in 2006 to focus on conflicts and particularly their impact on women.

Mass rape has been a weapon of warfare in Darfur and in Myanmar, the former Burma, another Chinese-backed regime.

"In Darfur and in the case of Burma, China is the eight-jillion-ton elephant in the room and needs to use some of its weight in a positive way," Williams said by telephone from Virginia.

The Save Darfur Coalition said it staged similar events in Britain, Portugal and Italy on Tuesday and planned more in Nigeria, France, Australia and elsewhere.

The campaign so far has not called for a global boycott of the Beijing games, although activists advocate not attending and not watching the August 8-24 event on television. They have seized on Beijing 2008 official slogan, "One World, One Dream."

"If China's dream of one world is where they support brute and thug regimes so they can extract resources, that's not a dream I share, thank you very much," said Williams.

China's embassy had no immediate comment. But last month, the ruling Chinese Communist Party's flagship newspaper and the foreign ministry said China would never submit to pressure from groups trying to use the Olympics to change Chinese policy.

(Additional reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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