- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

WASHINGTON — In a signal of the Obama administration’s intention to step up U.S. involvement in the violence-wracked region, President Barack Obama settled on retired Air Force Gen. J. Scott Gration, a close personal friend with long experience on African issues, to be special envoy to Sudan, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.

The formal announcement by Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is being made on Wednesday, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss personnel matters.

Gration, a former combat pilot, was an adviser to Obama during his presidential campaign on a range of military and national security issues. He is also an expert on Africa who was partly raised on the continent and is fluent in Swahili.

He accompanied then-Sen. Obama to Africa in 2006, a visit that included a stop in eastern Chad to see refugees from Darfur. The official said it was on that trip that the two forged a close friendship that has only deepened since. His new post will be effective immediately upon the announcement.

Sudan, by expelling foreign aid agencies, has created the conditions for “untold misery and suffering” among hundreds of thousands of victims of the six-year-old war in the Darfur region, Clinton said Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters at the State Department, Clinton called on Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to reverse his decision to expel the relief groups or, short of that, to replace them with personnel and resources sufficient to address the humanitarian crisis.

“This is a horrendous situation that is going to cause untold misery and suffering for the people of Darfur, particularly those in the refugee camps,” Clinton said.

“But the real question is what kind of pressure can be brought to bear on President Bashir and the government in Khartoum to understand that they will be held responsible for every single death that occurs in those camps, because by their expulsion of the aid workers … they are putting those 1.4 million lives at risk,” she said.

In expelling 13 large foreign aid agencies, most of them operating in Darfur, Al-Bashir accused them of spying for an international court that issued an arrest warrant against him on March 4 for war crimes in the western Sudanese region. He also shut down three local aid groups, including one of the largest operating in Darfur.

The U.N. estimates that the decision threatens more than 3 million people with the loss of food aid, health care or suitable drinking water.

Clinton said the blame lies with Al-Bashir and his government.

“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, who they created in the first place,” Clinton said.

Sudan’s Arab-led government has been battling ethnic African rebels in Darfur since 2003. Up to 300,000 people have been killed, and 2.7 million have been driven from their homes.

The State Department said Tuesday it is consulting with other United Nations member countries in an effort to persuade Sudanese leaders to reverse the expulsion decision.

For now, Sudan’s allies on the U.N. Security Council — Russia and China — oppose any sanctions against Sudan. Earlier this month, China, which is a top trading partner with Sudan, teamed with Libya to block a council statement condemning Sudan’s expulsion of aid

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