January 19, 2008 / 5:26 PM / 10 years ago

Mia Farrow vows to defy Cambodian Darfur rally ban

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Hollywood actress Mia Farrow says she will ignore a deportation threat and pursue plans to light a symbolic Olympic torch in Cambodia’s “Killing Fields,” as part of a campaign to end atrocities in Sudan’s Darfur.

“We will pass the flame, the flame to honor those have perished, to celebrate the courage of those who survived,” Farrow, who fronts the Dream for Darfur pressure group, told Reuters in an interview.

The group has held similar events in Chad, Rwanda, Armenia, Germany and Bosnia as part of a campaign to persuade China to push Khartoum into ending the violence in Darfur.

Beijing is hosting the 2008 Olympic Games and human rights groups have targeted China in the hope of using the spotlight thrown on the country to influence Chinese foreign policy.

China, a major investor in Sudan’s oil industry, has been accused of breaching international rules and fanning bloodshed by selling Sudan weapons that have been diverted to Darfur.

International experts estimate 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million others have been driven from their homes in years of fighting. The Sudanese authorities put the death toll at 9,000 and says the West has exaggerated the conflict in Darfur.

Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Khanarith said Farrow’s group would face “consequences” if it continued with its plan to light another torch at Tuol Sleng, the Phnom Penh high school that became Pol Pot’s main torture centre.

Flames are reflected in the glasses of Hollywood actress and UNICEF ambassador Mia Farrow after lighting an Olympic-style torch together with survivors of Bosnia's genocide in Sarajevo December 7, 2007. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

“What they will be doing at Tuol Sleng is not to commemorate the victims of the Khmer Rouge, but to use Khmer skulls to pressure China. This is an insult to the Cambodian people,” he told Reuters.

“If they insist on organizing the rally inside the museum’s compound, their visas will be cancelled and they will be expelled from Cambodia,” he said. “Even if you are American or a movie star, you have to follow the rules of your host country.”

Farrow said Phnom Penh was putting the interests of Beijing, one of its biggest donors, above the memories of the estimated 1.7 million victims of Pol Pot’s 1975-79 reign of terror.

U.S. actress Mia Farrow looks on during an interview at the Center for Social Development in Phnom Penh January 19, 2008. Cambodia has barred Farrow and a group campaigning for an end to atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region from lighting a symbolic Olympic torch at a "Killing Fields" memorial site. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

“We came here with the deepest respect,” Farrow said, tears welling up in her eyes. “I am sad because I think it’s a good thing to do.”

Cambodia’s cultural ministry has barred Farrow and her supporters from holding a rally at Tuol Sleng, where they have pledged to lay flowers, she said.

The American actress called on China to use its influence to push Khartoum to halt the violence in its western Darfur region and admit international peace-keepers.

“Please, China, do everything in your considerable power to persuade Khartoum to admit the peacekeeping force,” she said.

“They can effectively provide security for the people of Darfur and the innocent civilian population that is being ripped apart.”

Editing by Ed Cropley and Jon Boyle

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