US special envoy for Sudan headed to region
Barack Obama's newly named special envoy for Sudan, retired Air Force major general Scott Gration, met the US president, Sudan human-rights advocates and members of Congress Monday before travelling this week to the region, dpa reported.
"I can't think of somebody who is better equipped to travel to Africa, the continent where he grew up, and communicate to Sudan a couple of important points," said Obama, who has pledged to keep pressure on Khartoum to end the conflict in the Sudanese region of Darfur, describing the humanitarian crisis there as "urgent."
The international focus on Darfur has intensified following Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's expulsion of humanitarian organizations from the country, after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant against him on March 4 for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Despite the warrant, al-Bashir made a sensational appearance at the Arab League summit Monday in Doha, Qatar, where the 22-member organization affirmed support for him.
Al-Bashir was characteristically defiant, rejecting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's calls at the summit to rescind the expulsion of 13 international aid organizations on the grounds that "relief efforts should not be politicized."
"They provided some aid," al-Bashir acknowledged. "But the price was high. ... They exceeded their mandate by signing secret agreements with the ICC to pass the court information."
In Washington, Obama said: "We have to figure out a mechanism to get those NGOs back in place, to reverse that decision, or to find some mechanism whereby we avert an enormous humanitarian crisis. Even as we're dealing with that immediate issue, we can't take our eyes off the longstanding conflicts in Sudan that have resulted in all these persons being displaced."
Al-Bashir alleged that the United States "portrayed us as beasts and criminals in an international media campaign. My government has always sought to achieve peace in Darfur."
Al-Bashir's trip to Doha was his fourth out of Sudan since the ICC warrant. He travelled to Eritrea, Egypt and Libya before arriving Sunday in Doha.
The conflict in Darfur - between non-Arab rebels and militants backed by the Arab government in Khartoum - has left more than 300,000 people dead and more than 2 million displaced, according to a UN count.
Gration, a former US Air Force pilot, grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo while his family served there as missionaries. He has served as a key advisor to Obama and accompanied him to Darfur refugee camps in neighbouring Chad, when Obama was still a US senator.