UN Envoy to Darfur Rebuffs Critics and Cites Progress on Peace

The United Nations special representative to Darfur, Ibrahim Gambari, dismissed criticisms of his performance and said violence in the western Sudanese region is declining.

Gambari was criticized by Human Rights Watch for attending the Jan. 20 wedding of Chadian leader Idriss Deby in the presence of Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of responsibility for genocide and war crimes in Darfur. UN guidelines bar its officials from attending ceremonial events with people indicted by international criminal courts, Human Rights Watch said.

Gambari, speaking to reporters yesterday in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state, dismissed his critics as “people who are specialized in character assassination” and he credited the UN-African Union peacekeeping mission for improving security in the region.

“The fact that Darfur is no more in the news shows that something positive is happening,” he said. “The level of violence has gone down significantly.”

Insurgents in Darfur took up arms in 2003, accusing al-Bashir’s administration of neglecting the region. The conflict has led to the deaths of as many as 300,000 people, mainly due to illness and starvation, and forced about 2.7 million to flee their homes, according to UN estimates. The Sudanese government has put the death toll at about 10,000.

Militia Leader

News of Deby’s wedding made headlines in Sudanese newspapers such as al-Sudani, al-Intibaha and al-Sahafa because the bride, Amany Musa Hilal, is the daughter of Musa Hilal, a former militia leader in Darfur. The UN Security Council imposed travel bans and asset freezes on Hilal and three others on April 22, 2006, because of allegations they were involved in human-rights abuses.

Human Rights Watch said the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations explained in a Jan. 25 letter that Gambari attended the wedding in Khartoum at Deby’s invitation and had “no control over the guest list.”

Gambari said the political situation is improving in Darfur following a peace agreement signed in Doha in July between the government and the Liberation and Justice Movement rebel faction.

“Now power sharing is real, now you have the vice president, the ministers of justice, health, information and education, and the head of the regional authority from Darfur,” he said.

The main rebel movement in Darfur, the Justice and Equality Movement, boycotted the signing of the Qatar-brokered peace agreement. Following the death of leader, Khalil Ibrahim, on Dec. 25, Gambari urged JEM to join the peace process.

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