Obama to name Sudan special envoy

March 18, 2009 12:00 am

, WASHINGTON, Mar 18 – US President Barack Obama will on Wednesday name retired Air Force general Scott Gration as his special envoy to Sudan to confront what Washington sees as a "horrendous" situation in Darfur.

The President "will be naming Scott Gration as special envoy to Sudan," an Obama administration official said on condition of anonymity.

The announcement will come as the United States ratchets up pressure on the government of Sudan’s President Omar al-Beshir following his expulsion of international aid groups from Darfur that worsened the humanitarian crisis.

Former fighter pilot, Gration, a personal friend of Obama, was the pick of both the president and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the official said.

Gration, who sometimes traveled with Obama on the campaign trail last year, had expertise on African issues and was also versed in the operational requirements of training peacekeepers and of airlift capabilities.

Gration, a Swahili speaker who grew up in Africa, got to know then senator Obama in 2006 when they traveled together to visit Darfur refugees in camps in Chad.

Earlier, Clinton voiced fresh US condemnation of Beshir’s expulsion of 13 non-governmental aid groups, after he was targeted by a warrant from the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity in Darfur.

She said the move put 1.4 million people at risk, adding that the Sudanese president "will be held responsible for every single death that occurs in those camps."

Without naming China, one of Sudan’s biggest defenders internationally, Clinton said countries that support Beshir "have a responsibility to persuade the government in Sudan to change its decision."

Sudan must either allow aid workers back in, or "must replace with money and personnel those who have been expelled so that innocent lives are not lost and further undermined," she said.

"We are looking for the most effective ways to convince and demonstrate to the government of Sudan that they have now assumed an even greater sense of responsibility and infamy in the eyes of the world by turning their backs on these refugees whom they created in the first place."

Beshir is due to head to Darfur on Wednesday on his second trip to the war-torn region since the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against him for alleged war crimes there.

He is expected to visit Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state, a day after a peacekeeper with the joint UN-African Union force in Darfur was killed nearby in an ambush by unknown gunmen.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the United States has intensified its contacts in recent days with key players like China, the African Union and the Arab League to press them to use their influence to persuade Beshir to reverse course.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon meanwhile condemned the killing of a peacekeeper from a joint UN-African Union force in an ambush and said he was "deeply concerned" about increased security threats to the joint African Union and United Nations aid mission in Darfur (UNAMID).

Ban "calls on all parties to fulfill their responsibility to ensure the safety and security of UN and UN-associated personnel in Sudan," his press office said in a statement.

The peacekeeper was returning from patrol near the town of Nyala in Darfur when his unit came under attack. He was airlifted to UNAMID’s headquarters in El-Fasher, where he died from his wounds.

The death brought to 14 the number of peacekeepers killed in Darfur since the hybrid mission took over from a beleaguered African Union force in January 2008.

The targeted organizations, including Britain’s Oxfam, US-based Care and the Dutch and French sections of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), make up about half the humanitarian aid capacity in Darfur.

On Monday, Beshir said Sudan wanted no foreign aid organizations on the ground within a year, and that Sudanese organizations would replace them.

"If they want to bring in aid, they will have to leave it at the airport," he said at rally in Khartoum

According to the United Nations, 300,000 people have died and more than 2.2 million fled their homes since ethnic minority rebels rose up against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government in February 2003.

Sudan puts the death toll from the six-year conflict at 10,000.


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