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Last Updated: Monday, 23 January 2006, 19:18 GMT
Sudan ready to drop AU chair bid
A Sudanese soldier stands guard as the flags of African countries fly in Khartoum
Some say Sudan leading the AU presents a conflict of interest
Sudan is prepared to drop its bid to chair the African Union (AU) to avoid splits within the organisation, Sudan's presidential adviser has said.

"We don't want to make any cracks. If that means Sudan should withdraw, we will," Mustafa Osman Ismail said, as AU leaders met at a summit in Khartoum.

The AU has set up a special committee to try to resolve the issue. It is due to present its report on Tuesday.

Some AU members fear Sudan's human rights record will damage the AU.

There are also fears that Sudan's bid could set back efforts to reach a peace deal in its western region of Darfur.

Sudan is the only country to put its name forward at the summit.

Five countries have asked Sudan to withdraw, Reuters reports. Sudan says it has the backing of 12 other nations.

Traditionally the host of the 53-nation AU summit takes over in the chair.

'Chaos in Darfur'

But human rights groups say it will be a disaster if Sudan is chosen. They cite the crisis over Sudan's Darfur region and allegations that Khartoum-backed militias have been involved in murder, rape and other atrocities.

The AU is at the forefront of the fight against conflict, thus his leadership would really be a setback
Xavier Schoumaker, EU

More than 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur in the past three years and two million people have been forced from their homes.

Rebels from the Darfur region have said they will pull out of peace talks if Sudan takes over at the AU.

Since the AU has a peacekeeping force in Darfur and mediates in the crisis, there are concerns of a conflict of interest if Sudan is in the chair, says the BBC's Adam Mynott in Khartoum.

"As far as the security on the ground is concerned, there is chaos, in particular in west Darfur where there are many parties fighting," the head of the UN mission in Sudan, Jan Pronk, said.

"There are still attacks by militias on civilians," he said.

However, he has said the choice of AU chairman should be left to the AU itself.


Africa is split down the middle over Sudan's candidacy, says our correspondent.

Sudan says it has won the unanimous backing of 12 East African nations.

However an AU official told Reuters that five heads of state had met Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on Sunday and told him "there was a consensus that he should withdraw".

The countries were not named, except that Nigeria, the current AU president, was said to be among them.

"It is looking like the compromise is for [Nigerian President Olusegun] Obasanjo to stay because then Bashir will save some face," the official said.

An alternative suggestion is that a central African candidate take the chair.

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