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Activist Group Hopeful About Gration's Appointment as Sudan Envoy

Sudan's highest religious authority has issued a ruling that President Omar al-Bashir should not attend a March 30th Arab summit in Qatar. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has called for President Bashir's arrest for alleged war crimes in Darfur. In its fatwa issued Sunday the Committee of Muslim Scholars said the president should stay away from the meeting to avoid what it called the enemies of the nation.

Last week President Barack Obama appointed Major General J. Scott Gration as the U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan.

Alex Meixner, director of policy and government relations for the Safe Darfur Coalition told VOA that General Gration has the personal and professional background to do a good job as U.S. Special Envoy.

"We think General Gration is a good choice for one he has all the experience in the region. He actually grew in large part in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where his parents did aid work; and he himself was a refugee a few times in the 60s with his family during the troubles in the Congo then. He's fluent in Swahili; he has a significant record of working in Africa and with Africans. So he knows the ground fairly well. Additionally, he has the advantage of being a close friend of President Obama. Both traveled together extensively when President Obama was still a senator. For instance they visited Darfur refugees in the refugee camps in eastern Chad," he said.

Meixner agreed General Gration's appointment is coming at a tough difficult time for diplomacy, particularly with the ICC issuing an arrest warrant for President Bashir and at a time when Sudan has expelled several international aid agencies.

Still he said Gration has what it takes to address the policy issues the United States has with Sudan.

"The Obama administration is in a much better position than the Bush administration had been in terms of its ability to rally an international diplomatic coalition to press for change in Sudan. Certainly I think many anywhere across the world could be happy that millions of additional refugees in Darfur are now in greater risk because the Sudanese President kicked out the aid worker. So the question becomes what does one do about it? And this is an area where we think the U.S. should take the lead," he said.

An African Union panel headed by former South African President Thabo Mbeki has been assigned the task of finding a middle ground on the Sudan crisis.

Meixner said he understands that the African Union is a full partner in resolving the Sudan crisis, but he said it is a false premise to think that the views of Jean Ping, chair of the African Union Commission equals the views of all of Africa.

"In terms of former President Thabo Mbeki's participation, I must say frankly that during his presidency South Africa was perhaps less helpful than it might have been in resolving it. So I certainly agree that the African Union is a full partner here with the rest of the world in trying to resolve this. And there are many views out there including those of Mr. Mbeki and Ping. I'm saying clearly that there are more than only those views. There are those who believe that this case by the ICC could be catalyst for peace in Darfur just as the prosecutions of (Slobodan) Milosevic and (Charles) Taylor proved catalyst for peace in Bosnia and Liberia," Meixner said.