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Ben Affleck Returns To The Congo

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GOMA, Congo — Ben Affleck is talking to children and aid officials in refugee camps in war-torn eastern Congo in an effort to raise awareness of the conflict that has displaced at least 250,000 people.

The actor has visited the Central African country four times since 2007 and also has made a documentary about its problems.

"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.

"The primary reason I am here is to urge people to give money to the NGOs and charities doing hard work in eastern Congo on meager funds," he said. "And if people out there have an existing relationship with a charity, to urge that charity to get involved in eastern Congo. To let people know, 'Don't just read the horror stories in the newspapers and turn off.'"

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.

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."