KHARTOUM, Jan 20 (Reuters) – Sudan has appointed Musa Hilal, a man Washington accuses of coordinating Darfur’s marauding militias, to a central government position, a move condemned by international human rights campaigners.
Minister of Federal Affairs Abdel Basit Sabderat confirmed Hilal had been picked as his new adviser. The presidency had earlier denied the appointment.
“Yes he is appointed … adviser to the minister,” Sabderat told Reuters, but gave no further details. Hilal is the leader of the Mahamied clan, part of the powerful Arab Rizeigat tribe in Darfur.
Hilal told Reuters he would be based in Khartoum, but said the post could require travel to outlying regions. The ministry coordinates regional administrations with central government.
Washington says Hilal is the coordinator of the Janjaweed militias accused of war crimes in Darfur. He denies atrocities and says he mobilised his tribesmen to defend their lands after a government call to “popular defence”.
Human Rights Watch urged U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to press Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to revoke the appointment and to investigate Hilal for crimes in Darfur.
“Musa Hilal is the poster child for Janjaweed atrocities in Darfur,” Richard Dicker, International Justice Programme director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
“Rewarding him with a special government post is a slap in the face to Darfur victims and to the U.N. Security Council,” he added, noting that Hilal was subject to a U.N. travel ban for his role in Darfur.
THREAT TO PEACE TALKS
Gamal Nkrumah, Africa expert at Egypt’s al-Ahram weekly newspaper, said Hilal’s appointment threatened to undermine upcoming peace talks between the government and Darfur rebels, and strain Khartoum’s already troubled international relations.
“It was a surprise decision and a very unpleasant surprise,” he said. “It’s very negative and it just shows the complete intransigence on the government’s part,” he said, adding the move would also alienate Darfur’s rebels.
Rights groups say they have interviewed witnesses putting Hilal at the scene of atrocities during the five-year Darfur conflict, a charge he denies.
Some analysts suspect Hilal could be charged by the International Criminal Court, which has already issued arrest warrants for junior minister Ahmed Haroun and an allied tribal leader in Darfur, Ali Koshayb, for war crimes in Darfur.
Sudanese columnist Mekki al-Maghrabi said Hilal’s appointment was worth the political risk for the ruling National Congress Party, even if he might be tried by the world court. As a tribal elder, Hilal had the kind of clout that was needed to speak to affected tribes in Darfur and resolve the conflict.
“The transfer of a tribal leader to a political post is a good step which will open the door to more settlements (of disputes),” Maghrabi said.
International experts estimate some 200,000 have died in Darfur from hunger, disease and violence. About two-thirds of Darfur’s population relies on the world’s largest humanitarian operation for food, shelter or medical care.
Mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003 accusing central government of neglect. Khartoum mobilised mostly Arab tribes to quell the revolt.