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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 January 2006, 11:27 GMT
African Union defers Darfur issue
By Adam Mynott
BBC News, Khartoum

When African leaders arrived in Khartoum for their annual summit the issue of who should assume the chairmanship for the coming year should have detained them for just the first hour of the first day.

Sudan reception
Many African nations are criticised for human rights problems

But in the run up to this year's conference in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, it had become clear that Sudan's candidacy to be the leading African nation for the next 12 months would cause problems.

By tradition the chairmanship of the AU revolves around the five African regions, and it was East Africa's turn.

No other East African country had put their name forward and Sudan had the region's backing.

North African countries also indicated that Sudan and its President Omar Hassan al-Bashir would get their support.

But there were rumblings in the south and the west of the continent, and human rights groups were asking how Sudan could be given the leadership of the AU when it was confronted by accusations of a catalogue of human rights abuses in the Western Sudanese state of Darfur.

The security situation in Darfur has not only failed to improve, many think it has got worse.

People are still being attacked and killed on a daily basis and there are new arrivals at the dozens of camps for internally displaced people.

One southern African diplomat told me that it was not credible for Africa to be headed by Sudan for the coming year when the Darfur crisis remained out of control.

The AU chairman is also required to perform a role as mediator in African conflicts and disagreements.

If Sudan was chairman it would be hopelessly compromised over Darfur.

'Unity'

The entire first day was taken up with the chairmanship issue.


Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguessou has now taken over the chair of the Khartoum summit.

There were the usual opening speeches, but closed sessions of AU leaders were all about who should take over for the coming year, and the corridors of Friendship Hall in Khartoum where the summit is taking place were abuzz with diplomatic chat - much of it misinformed - about who was to be the new chairman.

It was getting dark before the heads of state emerged from their closed-door afternoon discussions, and word started to get out that Sudan had, in the interests of 'unity' agreed to back down.

Though official Sudanese sources were denying they had yielded.

Overnight a small committee of countries was given the task of coming up with a compromise. What emerged in the middle of the morning of the second and final day was the decision to give the chairmanship for 2006 to the central African state of Congo-Brazzaville, and its president Denis Sassou-Nguessou.

Sudan is to get the chairmanship next year. This was being hailed by Sudanese officials in Khartoum as a triumph.

Human rights campaigners were asking if Sudan had been unsuitable for the chairmanship for 2006 what made it acceptable in a year's time?

The summit then struggled to move on to what was left of the agenda - 95% of it. The theme this year: 'Education and Culture'.




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