January 21, 2008 / 1:33 AM / 10 years ago

Cambodian police block Mia Farrow's Darfur rally

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Baton-wielding police barred Hollywood actress Mia Farrow from holding a rally in Cambodia’s “Killing Fields” on Sunday as part of a campaign to end atrocities in Sudan’s Darfur.

<p>A policeman (L) attempts to stop U.S actress Mia Farrow (2nd R) and group from making their way to lay flowers at Toul Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh January 20, 2008. Cambodian police barred Hollywood actress Mia Farrow and other activists from laying flowers at a "Killing Fields" museum on Sunday, as part of a campaign to end atrocities in Sudan's Darfur. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea</p>

Some 100 military police blocked Farrow, who fronts the Dream for Darfur pressure group, and her fellow activists from entering the compound at Tuol Sleng, the Phnom Penh high school that became Pol Pot’s main torture centre.

“Darfur has nothing to do with Cambodia. Go protest in Darfur,” Phnom Penh police chief Touch Naruth told reporters after the hour-long stand-off ended without incident.

The group, which had planned to lay flowers and light a symbolic Olympic torch in the compound, 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.

“Our hearts are breaking for what happened in Cambodia today,” Farrow later told a news conference, accusing Beijing of putting pressure on Cambodian authorities.

“The Chinese government was trying to prevent us from commemorating the genocide in Cambodia and denying survivors the opportunity to show solidarity with the people of Darfur,” she said.

“We wish Beijing to exercise a similar amount of diplomatic pressure on Khartoum to end the genocide 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 say the West has exaggerated the conflict.

“I grieve every day about what is happening now,” Omer Ismail, a Darfur survivor and activist, told reporters.

“As we gather here, in my beloved Sudan (there are) the attacks, the rapes, the systematic murder of innocent men, women, and children.”

Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Khanarith had said Farrow’s group would face “consequences,” including deportation, if they pressed ahead with the rally.

“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 said.

In an earlier interview, 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.

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

Editing by Darren Schuettler and Jerry Norton

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