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President Obama Names Gration As Sudan Envoy

Retired Air Force Gen. J. Scott Gration, shown here in September 2008 in North Carolina, has been named special envoy to Sudan. Greg Sousa/AP/Goldsboro News-Argus hide caption

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Greg Sousa/AP/Goldsboro News-Argus

Retired Air Force Gen. J. Scott Gration, shown here in September 2008 in North Carolina, has been named special envoy to Sudan.

Greg Sousa/AP/Goldsboro News-Argus

President Obama has tapped one of his campaign advisers, retired Air Force Gen. J. Scott Gration, to become his envoy for Sudan.

Gration is a close personal friend of the president, and he has experience on African issues, having lived in Africa as a child. Gration's parents were missionaries.

In a statement announcing the appointment, President Obama said, "I have worked closely and directly with Gen. Gration for several years, and have traveled with him to refugee camps in Chad filled with those who were displaced by the genocide in Darfur. He is a valued personal friend, and I am pleased he has accepted this assignment."

Activists welcomed the news, which comes as the U.S. is facing a new test in Sudan. The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant earlier this month against Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, who is accused of orchestrating atrocities in Darfur. He's responded to the accusations by expelling more than a dozen aid groups that were helping displaced people in the region.

Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition, says Gration's "first and most immediate priority is really an urgent, sustained and intense diplomatic push, involving China and key African and Arab countries, to establish unimpeded humanitarian access."

China is an important business partner of Sudan.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters on Tuesday that countries that support Sudan have a responsibility to either use their influence to persuade Bashir to let the aid groups back, or "replace with money and personnel those who have been expelled."

She said that the expulsion of aid groups that were providing health and other services in displaced camps in Darfur have put 1.4 million people at risk.

"The real question," she said, "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?"

Bashir, however, remains defiant. He was in Darfur again Wednesday for the second time since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued the arrest warrant against him.

"No ICC or Security Council or any other party will change our path or touch an eyelash in our eye," Bashir told supporters at a rally.

He also made clear this week that he would like to "Sudanize" aid work in his country by the end of the year, suggesting he would like all foreign aid workers out. International aid groups have provided a lifeline for millions of people in Darfur, displaced in a conflict that the U.S. has labeled genocide.