By VERNE KOPYTOFF
San Francisco Chronicle
April 11, 2007
The project, done in partnership with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, offers users of Google Earth a bird's-eye view of the aftermath of four years of fighting between the East African nation's Arab-dominated government and the largely black residents of the Darfur region. The United Nations has said that more than 200,000 people, many of them Darfur civilians, have died and 2.5 million have been displaced in the conflict.
Elliot Schrage, Google's vice president of global communications and public affairs, said the new high-resolution images are intended to encourage individuals to act against what he - along with U.S. officials and many human-rights groups - describes as genocide.
"We're joining with the museum ... in this initiative because the situation in Darfur is a global catastrophe, and because we believe technology can be a catalyst" for education and action, he said at a press conference in Washington.
Among the hundreds of locations highlighted with icons that resemble flames and tents on Google Earth are the remnants of small villages that had allegedly been set ablaze. Users can zoom in on the black outlines of huts and livestock pens dotting the savannah.
Pop-up windows tell part of the story: For example, in Ganbi, 237 of 259 buildings are listed as being destroyed. In all, more than 1,600 damaged villages are highlighted on the service, along with overhead images of large refugee camps, where thousands of Darfur residents have fled for food and safety.
Land-based photography is made available showing what's described as a government soldier looting a home, a government helicopter that had just strafed a village below and the disfigured face of a torture victim. Images of daily life and testimonials about attacks are also available.
Gamal Ahmed, press officer for the Sudanese Embassy in Washington, said he was unaware of the Google-U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum partnership until told about it by the San Francisco Chronicle and therefore couldn't comment in detail. In general, he defended the Sudanese government - accused by human-rights groups of being the aggressor - and said: "Wherever there is a war, you can see photos of destruction. You cannot hold one side responsible for what's happening there."
Google Earth is a free online service that requires a download, available at earth.google.com. Users who have the most recent version will have the Darfur layer of images added automatically; those who have older versions can get the layer at www.ushmm.org/googleearth.
Making images of Darfur available through Google is intended to raise the visibility of the conflict to Google Earth's 200 million users, show the scope of the fighting and bring a more human element to the carnage. Anyone who clicks on icons in Darfur will get links directing them to contact the government and also spread word about the war, a low-profile battle that is seldom in the headlines.
"This project will enable vast numbers of people worldwide to locate and visualize with great specificity both the events in Darfur and the millions of victims of those events," said Sara Bloomfield, director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com
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