Ben Affleck trades acting for TV reporting in Congo

LOS ANGELES Fri Jun 27, 2008 12:29am BST

1 of 2. Actor Ben Affleck (R) is pictured as he listens to a woman in Congo in this undated publicity photograph. Affleck's personal essay on his travels through the Congo will be telecast on ABC's news program 'Nightline' on June 26, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Max Culhane/ABC News/Handout

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Oscar winning actor Ben Affleck has taken on a new job, if only for one assignment, traveling to the war-torn eastern Congo to do a report for Thursday's U.S. edition of ABC television news program "Nightline."

Affleck has gone to the Democratic Republic of Congo three times this past year, and in an essay posted on ABC's Web site, he said he wanted to draw attention to the violence, starvation and disease in the region that kills 1,200 people a day.

"It makes sense to be skeptical about celebrity activism," wrote Affleck, 35, star of movies such as "Hollywoodland" and Oscar winner for the screenplay of "Good Will Hunting."

"There is always the suspicion that involvement with a cause may be doing more good for the spokesman than he or she is doing for the cause," Affleck said.

But Affleck said he hoped viewers could separate any reservations about his involvement from "what is unimpeachably important about this segment: the plight of eastern Congo."

Emily Lenzner, a spokeswoman for ABC News, said Affleck was not a correspondent for "Nightline," and that the program shows only one trip he took to Congo from last month.

"We basically went with a camera and a producer and just basically followed him around," Lenzner said. "It was his observations, his journey that we pretty much documented."

Accompanying Affleck were producer Max Culhane and cameraman Doug Vogt, who along with ABC journalist Bob Woodruff was injured in a 2006 roadside bomb attack in Iraq.

Affleck approached "Nightline" about doing the program.

In his essay, he talked about young boys being widely used as child soldiers and girls being forced into marriage. He said he met with warlords, peacemakers, survivors and aid workers, and he described bands of roaming militias brandishing AK-47s.

On Wednesday, the head of Congo's U.N. peacekeeping mission said that a million people are prevented from returning to their homes because of frequent suspension of peace talks.

Conflict in eastern Congo has lasted for many years with ethnic violence growing out of neighboring Rwanda's 1994 genocide in which Hutu extremists attacked Tutsis.

Since 1998, about 5.4 million people are estimated to have died in the Congolese violence and the ensuing humanitarian crisis, most from hunger and disease.

Affleck is not the first Hollywood actor to draw attention to Africa. George Clooney and Don Cheadle have long advocated for relief in the Darfur region of Sudan. Brad Pitt visited the continent in 2005 with ABC's Diane Sawyer for "Primetime Live" to talk about fighting poverty and the spread of AIDS.

(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Eric Beech)

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