Wed, Jan 18, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Clashes in Sudan cloud African Union chair bid

NOT SUITABLE African rights groups called on the region not to allow the country to become the next head of the African Union because of humanitarian violations

AP , JOHANNESBURG

More than 50 African human rights and civil society groups have written to the continent's leaders expressing alarm at Sudan's bid to become chair of the African Union (AU) despite continued violence in its western Darfur region.

In a letter dated Monday, the groups has warned that such a move could destroy efforts to resolve a conflict that has killed an estimated 180,000 people and displaced about 2 million since 2003.

"The human rights and humanitarian situation in Sudan's Darfur region continues to be one of the worst in the world," they said in the letter. "The government of Sudan is one of the parties considered responsible for this situation."

Among the signatories are the Africa Peace Forum, the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation and the Southern Africa Non Governmental Organization Network.

TRADITION

By tradition, Sudanese President Omar El-Bashir should become the next chairman of the 53-nation regional bloc at its upcoming summit in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, on Jan. 23 and24. But this would place Sudan in the position of being both participant and mediator in ongoing peace talks, the groups said.

"We believe that the entire process of the Inter-Sudanese Peace Talks on Darfur lies in jeopardy should the AU presidency go to Marshal Omar El-Bashir," they said in the letter.

Decades of low-level tribal clashes over land and water in the vast, arid Darfur region erupted into large-scale violence in early 2003, when ethnic African tribes took up arms, accusing the Arab-dominated central government of neglect.

President Omar El-Bashir's government is accused of responding by unleashing Arab tribal militias known as Janjaweed, who laid waste to African villages, killing and raping their inhabitants. The Sudanese government denies the charge.

HUMANITARIAN CRIMES

A 7,000-strong AU force is in Darfur charged with monitoring an April 2004 cease-fire between El-Bashir's government and rebels that is being regularly broken by all parties.

Janjaweed still surround camps for the displaced and block major access routes in Darfur, according to humanitarian workers, who say rapes and killings continue.

"Because of these crimes against humanity committed on her territory, Sudan should not be rewarded by granting the leadership of the African Union to President El-Bashir at this very crucial moment in the Union's history," the groups said.

They are backed by New York-based Human Rights Watch, which sent its own letter to African heads of state in November, warning that the AU would undermine its stated commitment to human rights by holding the summit in Khartoum and making Sudan its leader.

The violence in Darfur has spilled into neighboring Chad, where President Idriss Deby has accused Sudan of backing rebels who are seeking to overthrow his government.

He has also called on the AU to block Sudan from taking over because of its aggressive attitude toward its people and toward Chad.

The AU has broken with tradition before when it comes to leadership hand overs. At its summit in Libya last year, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo was asked to continue as chair because of opposition to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

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