U.S. may support brief delay in Sudan elections

By Daniel Bases
Friday, April 9, 2010; A09

UNITED NATIONS -- Citing "disturbing" circumstances in Sudan ahead of national elections, the United States said Thursday that it would consider supporting a brief delay in the voting for the sake of greater credibility.

Sudan's first multiparty elections in 24 years are scheduled to begin Monday. But several opposition parties announced plans to boycott the voting, and European Union election observers withdrew from the Darfur region, saying safety concerns hindered their work.

"I think our view has been that if a very brief delay were decided to be necessary, and we thought that a brief delay would enable the process to be more credible, we would be prepared to entertain that," said Susan E. Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

"That's obviously up to the authorities themselves," she said. "But the larger picture is that much is awry in this process, and that is a real concern."

Sudan's U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem, rejected talk of a delay.

"The government itself cannot do that, and elections are not going to be delayed at all," Abdalhaleem told reporters. "After all, these types of functions [are] the responsibility of the national electoral commission and not the government."

Rice said that conditions in Sudan, as reported to the Security Council by the head of U.N. peacekeeping, Alain Le Roy, were "quite disturbing."

Le Roy, she said, had told the panel of restrictions on free speech and association and reported harassment of the press and limits on access to polling stations, particularly in Darfur.

Abdalhaleem denied that there were problems with the election process and said the nation "looks with pride to this event."

"We have no electoral crisis at all," he said. "Everything is set for the elections. We may have some crisis within some political parties. This is their problem, not the problem of the Sudanese people."

Violence erupted in Darfur in 2003 when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the state, accusing Khartoum of neglecting the region. The United Nations estimates that up to 300,000 people have died since the government mounted a counterinsurgency, arming mostly Arab militias. Khartoum puts the death count at 10,000.

Sudan is ruled by the National Congress Party, headed by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who was indicted in March 2009 by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes in Darfur.

-- Reuters

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