- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2007

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Sudan lost its bid to lead the African Union yesterday as bloodshed in the country’s Darfur region dominated the bloc’s summit and the U.N. chief said scorched-earth military policies are “a terrifying feature of life” in the vast, arid area.

With Sudan’s president, Lt. Gen. Omar Bashir, looking on, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “the toll of the crisis remains unacceptable” with more than 200,000 people killed and 2.5 million displaced in four years of fighting.

Mr. Ban called on African leaders to end the deadlock created by Sudan’s refusal to allow U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur.

Hours later, in a rebuff to Gen. Bashir, the African Union (AU) chose Ghana to head the 53-member bloc, turning aside Sudan’s bid for the post for the second year in a row.

“By consensus vote, President [John] Kufuor of Ghana has been elected to the presidency of the African Union,” Alpha Oumar Konare, the AU chief executive officer, told reporters at the session in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

Mr. Konare said Sudan supported the decision, but Sudanese leaders had been adamant that their country deserved the rotating chairmanship.

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

Sudan had pushed to get the post at last year’s summit, which it hosted, but African leaders selected Republic of Congo’s president, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, in a compromise deal in which he would hold it for a year and then hand it over to Gen. Bashir.

But that deal hinged on Sudan demonstrating progress in bringing peace to Darfur. Instead of calming, Darfur’s violence in recent months has spilled into neighboring Chad and Central African Republic.

International organizations opposed Sudan leading the bloc, accusing Gen. Bashir’s government of encouraging conflict in Darfur. Rebel leaders in the region said they would stop considering an AU peacekeeping mission as an honest broker if Sudan was selected.

Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu also sharply criticized Sudan yesterday, and a French aid group said it was pulling out of western Sudan because of a 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 spiraling out of control 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. Sudan’s government denies the accusations.

The government signed a peace agreement with one Darfur rebel faction in May, but violence has only worsened. Gen. Bashir has opposed a U.N. Security Council resolution that calls for 22,000 U.N. peacekeepers to replace or absorb the weak AU force of 7,000 soldiers now in Darfur.

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