Sudan Names Janjaweed Figure as Top Adviser

By Nora Boustany
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has promoted Musa Hilal, a suspected leader of the Arab Janjaweed militia that is accused of some of the gravest human rights violations in the battered Darfur region, to a senior adviser post in the government.

The appointment, announced by the Sudanese government Sunday, was confirmed by Bashir on Tuesday during an official visit to Turkey.

Bashir defended his decision following a barrage of criticism from human rights groups and U.S. lawmakers, maintaining that Hilal had "contributed greatly to stability and security in the region," the Reuters news service reported from the Turkish capital, Ankara.

On Sunday, Human Rights Watch condemned Hilal as the "poster child for Janjaweed atrocities in Darfur," saying his assignment is a "slap in the face to Darfur victims and the U.N. Security Council."

According to a U.S. Congressional Research Service investigation in 2004, Hilal was jailed in 1997 for killing 17 people in Darfur, but was released in 2003 and chosen to help organize the militia.

Hailing from an Arab camel-herding tribe in North Darfur, he reportedly became a militia commander allied with the Khartoum government, which supplied him with guns and helicopters to help suppress a rebellion by African agrarian tribes in western Sudan. The crisis in Darfur has displaced 2.5 million people and left as many as 450,000 dead.

John Prendergast, co-chair of the Enough Project, a new initiative aimed at fighting crimes against humanity, described Bashir's move as a "probing ploy."

"It is a strategy to throw off the international community. Bringing Hilal to the presidential palace is like throwing a skunk into the garden party and watching how the guests react," Prendergast said. "There will be furor and a new uproar. Meanwhile, the United Nations forces are not deployed, and the process to pacify Darfur is not going anywhere."

Julie Flint, who has traveled extensively in Darfur among the region's impoverished Arab nomadic tribes, said Bashir is showing that he is "running very scared" by promoting Hilal. The Arab tribes of Darfur sided with Khartoum against the rebels in return for promises of wider access to pastures and grazing grounds.

But Flint said a powerful Arab tribal leader, Mohamed Hamdan Dogolo "Hemeti," had recently mutinied and made off with a large delivery of sophisticated weapons and communications equipment.

According to Flint, Darfur's Arabs are telling the government: "You used us to fight the rebels and then you dumped us. No compensation for our dead, no protection against the rebels, only fear of the International Criminal Court."

The court has issued warrants against one Sudanese government official and one Arab militia commander.

Hilal's promotion "kills several birds with one stone," Flint said. "It keeps [Hilal] close. It tells the Arabs, 'We will not abandon you to the ICC.' " She said it also signals a willingness to stand up to the United States and other international pressure.

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