Cairo (AP) – Syrian opposition activists are calling for the removal of the Sudanese head of the Arab League monitoring mission for serving as a senior official in the "oppressive regime" of Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president under an international arrest warrant on charges of committing genocide in Darfur.
The 60 Arab League monitors who began work Tuesday are the first Syria has allowed in during the nine-month anti-government uprising. They are supposed to be ensuring the regime is complying with terms of the League's plan to end the regime's crackdown. The U.N. says more than 5,000 people have died in the uprising since it began in March.
The mission is headed by Lt. Gen. Mohamed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, a longtime al-Bashir loyalist who once served as his head of military intelligence.
Al-Bashir came to power in a 1989 military coup and Amnesty International said al-Dabi led his military intelligence service until August 1995, when he was appointed head of external security.
"During the early 1990s, the military intelligence in Sudan was responsible for the arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearance, and torture or other ill-treatment of numerous people in Sudan," the Amnesty statement said.
"The Arab League's decision to appoint as the head of the observer mission a Sudanese general on whose watch severe human rights violations were committed in Sudan risks undermining the League's efforts so far and seriously calls into question the mission's credibility," Amnesty said.
Haytham Manna, a prominent Paris-based dissident, urged the Arab League to replace al-Dabi or reduce his authority.
"We know his history and his shallow experience in the area," he said.
Omar Idilbi of the Local Coordination Committees described al-Dabi as a "senior officer with an oppressive regime that is known to repress opposition" and said there are fears he might not be neutral.
Some of al-Dabi's comments during a visit to the flashpoint city of Homs this week also angered the opposition. He said the mission was enjoying the full cooperation of the Syrian government, which has shot and killed dozens of people around the country, mostly unarmed protesters, while the monitors have been working there.
"What do you expect from the head of a monitoring mission who is accused of genocide in his own country," said British-based opposition activist Ausama Monajed, a member of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group. "Why couldn't the head of the mission be from Egypt, Morocco or the Gulf?" he told The Associated Press by phone. "That his background is military undermines his credibility. Why did not they pick someone who has a legal or rights background?"
He said SNC "is deeply concerned about having Mr. al-Dabi as head of the monitoring mission given the accusations around him and we will put a motion to the Arab League requesting that he be changed."
Because killings have continued with the monitors present, some members of the opposition have even accused the observers of complicity in the bloodshed.
President Bashar Assad's regime signed off on the peace plan on Dec. 19. The plan requires his regime to remove security forces and heavy weapons from city streets, start talks with opposition leaders, free political prisoners and allow human rights workers and journalists into the country. Syrian opposition groups have been critical of the mission, saying it will give Assad cover for his crackdown.
Sudan and Syria have been close allies for most of al-Bashir's 22 years in power, with Damascus routinely coming to al-Bashir's defense in the face of the International Criminal Court's indictment and arrest warrant against him.
Syria opposition wants removal of chief monitor