Ghana to Chair African Union Instead of Sudan: Top Official

By Les Neuhaus and Alfred de Montesquiou
Associated Press
Tuesday, January 30, 2007; Page A14

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, Jan. 29 -- Bloodshed in Sudan's Darfur region dominated discussion at the African Union summit Monday, blocking Sudan's bid to lead the 53-country group as the U.N. chief described scorched-earth military policies as "a terrifying feature of life" in the vast, arid area.

With Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir looking on, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said that "the toll of the crisis remains unacceptable." As many as 450,000 people have died from disease and violence and 2.5 million have been displaced in four years of fighting. Ban called on African leaders to end the deadlock created by Sudan's refusal to allow U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur.

Hours later, the African Union chose Ghana's president, John Kufuor, to head the bloc, deflecting Sudan's bid for the second year in a row.

"This is a very unfortunate development," Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali Sadiq said in Khartoum. "The African heads of states had committed to this last year. That they changed their mind shows there was heavy pressure from outside Africa."

Last year, African leaders selected the president of Congo Republic in a compromise in which he would hand over the A.U. post to Bashir after a year. But that deal hinged on Sudan demonstrating progress in bringing peace to Darfur. Instead of declining, Darfur's violence has in recent months spilled into neighboring Chad and Central African Republic.

International organizations opposed the idea of Sudan leading the A.U., accusing Bashir's government of encouraging conflict in Darfur. Rebel leaders in the region said they would no longer regard an A.U. peacekeeping mission as an honest broker if Sudan were selected.

Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu of South Africa criticized Sudan sharply on Monday, and a French aid group said it was pulling out of western Sudan because of the lack of security. Six other international charities said Sunday that their work in Darfur will soon be paralyzed unless urgent action is taken.

Darfur has been the scene of violence since rebels from ethnic African farm communities took up arms against the Arab-dominated central government in 2003. Sudan's government has been accused of retaliating against civilians as well as supporting paramilitary groups from nomadic Arab tribes blamed for some of the worst atrocities in the conflict. Officials in Khartoum deny the allegations.

The government signed a peace agreement with one Darfur rebel faction last May, but violence has worsened. Sudan and Chad have also traded accusations of supporting each other's rebel groups.

Bashir has opposed a U.N. Security Council resolution that calls for 22,000 U.N. peacekeepers to replace or absorb the weak A.U. force of 7,000 soldiers now in Darfur. But late Monday, Sadiq, the Foreign Ministry spokesman in Khartoum, said Sudan's government had agreed to cooperate on forming a "hybrid force" for Darfur that would include U.N. troops.

He said no final agreement on troop numbers had been reached, although A.U. and U.N. officials say the United Nations could send as many as 10,000 to 15,000. Sadiq said U.N. troops could begin deploying in July. Sudan has reneged on previous agreements to allow the United Nations into Darfur.

The summit, which ends Tuesday, is also focusing on assembling an African peacekeeping force for Somalia, which has been without an effective central government since clan warlords toppled a longtime military dictatorship in 1991 and then fell to fighting among themselves.

In December, a U.N.-backed interim government supported by Ethiopia's military ousted an Islamic militia in the Horn of Africa nation, but Ethiopian troops are pulling out and there are worries that warlords and other armed groups could disrupt efforts to restore stability.

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