Ben Affleck Visits Refugee Camps In Eastern Congo

Actors Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner are seen at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2008. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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Ben Affleck is trying to draw more attention to the conflict in eastern Congo, touring refugee camps and consulting with aid workers in the region where at least 250,000 people have been displaced by recent fighting.

The actor, who has visited the Central African country four times since 2007 and has made a documentary about its problems, is also encouraging people to donate more to aid agencies working there.

"I'm not an expert in international affairs or diplomacy, but it doesn't take that to see the tremendous suffering here," he told The Associated Press on Thursday in Goma, the regional capital. "It's not something that we as human beings can, in good conscience, ignore."

Years of sporadic violence in eastern Congo intensified in August, when fighting heated up between the army and fighters loyal to rebel leader Laurent Nkunda.

Some fear the current crisis could once again draw in neighboring countries. Congo's devastating 1998-2002 war split the vast nation into rival fiefdoms and involved half a dozen African armies.

"I'm really glad that more people are paying more attention to (Congo) now but I'm really saddened that it's taken this uptick in violence to make that happen," Affleck said. "My hope in being here is primarily to bring attention to the fact that there's a real lack of (aid agencies) here, a real lack of money going to these folks."

Affleck said he first became interested in Congo a few years ago, when Hollywood's attentions began to focus another African crisis, Darfur. After doing more research on Africa, he was shocked to learn about Congo's four-year war, during which an estimated 5 million people died.

"I thought a lot of people are advocating on Darfur. I'd just be a very small log on a big fire. I started getting interested in Congo and I thought, this is a place where I can have a really big impact," he said.

"I think that, for better or worse, people with some profile in the arts have some currency to spend as celebrities. And for a time, I didn't spend that in any particularly productive way. And I got to a point where I thought, this is wasteful."

Decades of instability and conflict mean everyone in Congo has a compelling story to tell. And the country's stunning landscapes - rolling green fields, riotous fields of flowers, sparkling lakes and even a moodily smoking volcano - deserve their own starring role. Would Affleck consider putting Congo on the big screen?

"It's a big story," he said. "I think you'd have to make it about one person, and their story, their journey through the political reality here."

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