- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama has named a retired Air Force major general and personal friend as special envoy to Sudan and denounced the African government’s expulsion of humanitarian relief organizations as disastrous.

In a strong statement Wednesday, Obama described his selection, J. Scott Gration, as a humanitarian who has accompanied him to refugee camps in Chad “filled with those who were displaced by the genocide in Darfur.”

Up to 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur and some 2.7 million people driven from their homes as the Arab-led government in Khartoum has battled ethnic African rebels since 2003.

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir. Backed by the Arab League, the Sudanese leader has fired back no war crimes court or the U.N. Security Council could touch even “an eyelash” on him.

Obama called Sudan a priority for his administration as the African country “cries out for peace and for justice.”

He said he would support the full and unobstructed deployment of a joint African Union-U.N. peacekeeping force and negotiations for a political solution.

The peacekeeping mission of about 15,000 soldiers has been deployed more than a year in Darfur but is under-equipped and been attacked by the warring factions.

The Sudanese government will be held accountable for the lives lost in Darfur, Obama said.

Earlier, Gration’s close connections to Obama stirred speculation he would be named to head the U.S. Space Agency.

He has worked with Obama as a military adviser and was a fighter pilot who flew repeated combat missions over Iraq.

Gration voted for George W. Bush for president in 2000 but was an early Obama supporter and campaigned across the state of Iowa for him. He toured Africa for 15 days with Obama in 2006 and then was part of his 2008 Middle East tour that included Iraq.

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