- The Washington Times - Monday, October 9, 2000

NEW YORK The United States is trying to derail Africa's chosen candidate to represent the continent on the U.N. Security Council, saying Sudan's government has such a poor human rights record that its ambassador could not possibly take part in discussions about international peace and security.

Sudan received the endorsement of the Organization of African Unity in July, and its election to the Security Council was all but certain.

But in recent weeks, the tiny island of Mauritius about 500 miles east of the continent and a bit larger than Oahu in Hawaii has made clear that it also is seeking the council seat, and has powerful support from Washington.

The entire U.N. membership is to select the five new council members tomorrow in one of the rare secret ballots on the General Assembly calendar. Each region elects one or two candidates to represent the region on the council for a two-year term beginning in January.

A State Department official acknowledged that the United States backs Mauritius, but bristled at the widespread notion that Washington is putting Mauritius up to block Sudan.

"Mauritius put in its nomination in March, before the [OAU] meeting," she said. "So it would be erroneous to say that they were put up by the United States."

Still, the State Department official left no doubt that Washington would prefer to see almost any African nation take the place of Sudan on the council.

"Sudan is not a suitable candidate to represent Africa for a number of reasons," she declared, saying the African country bordering the Red Sea has been under Security Council sanctions and has a "terrible" human rights record.

"So in light of that, it's difficult to envision how Sudan would be a credible interlocutor for Africa," she said, whatever the Organization of African Unity thinks.

Some African leaders most volubly the Ugandans may agree with the State Department, but they also say that position smacks of a colonialism they cannot tolerate.

As one North African diplomat wryly commented last week: "Three words: Boutros Boutros-Ghali." He was referring to the Egyptian diplomat who served as the previous U.N. secretary-general and was blocked by the United States from a second term despite Africa's continued support.

The council imposed an air embargo against Sudan in 1996 for its suspected role in an assassination attempt against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Ethiopia the year before. The OAU, the Arab Group and several others have petitioned the council to lift the sanctions.

Sudan was also the target of U.S. cruise missiles in August 1998, following the bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. After destroying the Al Shifa Pharmaceuticals Industries factory in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, Washington said it believed the site was producing components of chemical weapons and had financial links to suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, though neither claim has been conclusively substantiated.

Just three weeks ago, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa reaffirmed Cairo's support for Khartoum's council candidacy, declaring: "There is an African and an Arab decision in Sudan's favor concerning this issue."

Sudanese Ambassador Elfatih Erwa is livid over what he sees as American interference in African affairs. He notes that Sudan has "the legitimate African endorsement" and disparages Mauritius' candidacy as a "distortion" of the regional selection.

Mr. Erwa also notes correctly that nothing in the U.N. Charter prohibits a nation from taking its turn at the Security Council's horseshoe table because of council sanctions.

"When you talk about international peace and security, everyone knows you're not talking about internal problems, you're talking about invading other countries," Mr. Erwa said.

The spat over the African seat has eclipsed the usual handicapping that accompanies annual Security Council elections.

This year, Singapore is unopposed to take over the Asian seat as Malaysia ends its turn, and Colombia will replace Argentina.

Italy, Ireland and Norway are competing in relative gentility for the "Western Europe and other" seat that includes such far-flung democracies as the United States, Australia and, nominally, Israel. The Netherlands and Canada are ending their two-year stints on the council.

In recent weeks, the socializing has heated up, with Norway throwing a lavish dinner hosted by King Harald and Irish diplomats wining and dining the developing world to explain Ireland's history as a former colony of Britain.

But it is the African contest that has turned the election into a cliffhanger. It is Namibia's seat that is up for grabs, while Mali will keep the other African seat until December 2002.

"This really isn't good for Mauritius," said one African ambassador who said his government had instructed him to vote for the endorsed candidate. "They aren't going to win, and in fact, it will surely cost them. No African [country] should be seen as a tool of the United States or the Europeans."

Which is exactly how the island is starting to appear.

Many U.N. officials and observers, who see the annual Security Council elections as something like intramural sports, say Mauritius isn't supposed to win. Its role, they explain, is to put up enough of a fight so that a third nation will be able to emerge as a consensus choice.

There are precedents for a compromise sort of.

In 1995, Libya won the vote to represent Africa in the council, but after prolonged agitation from the United States and others, Tripoli allowed Egypt to serve its term.

The Sudanese say no compromise is in the works.

"Why should we do that?" asked Mr. Erwa. "We are expecting to win."

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