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EU withdraws Darfur poll monitors

Veronique De Keyser in Khartoum, March 2010
Veronique de Keyser says the EU mission's credibility is at stake

The European Union has withdrawn its election observers from Sudan's Darfur region, citing safety considerations.

The move comes ahead of presidential, legislative and municipal elections set for Sunday - which should be Sudan's first multi-party vote since 1986.

Opposition parties say the polls in Darfur are a farce while a seven-year conflict continues in the region.

South Sudan's main party, the SPLM, has said it will boycott the presidential poll, citing fraud and security fears.

Several other parties have also withdrawn from the elections or are threatening to do so.

Threats

"I have decided to go back with all the team of six observers that were still in Darfur," EU head of mission Veronique de Keyser told reporters.

Ms de Keyser said it was "impossible" to observe elections in a credible way given the "many safety limitations" in the region.

SUDAN STAKES
Africa's biggest country
Deeply divided along religious and ethnic lines
11 April elections intended to be first multi-party national poll for 24 years
Continuing conflict in Darfur
President Bashir wanted for war crimes in Darfur
South Sudan rebuilding after 21 years of civil war
South Sudan could secede in 2011
Large oil fields near north-south border

"In some parts of Darfur the violence is terrible. The humanitarians cannot access this area. And if aid cannot access, we cannot access," she said earlier on a one-day trip to the war-torn region.

The EU observer chief has previously expressed dismay after President Omar al-Bashir threatened to expel international observers who pushed for a delay in the ballot, saying he would cut off their fingers and tongues.

"You don't usually treat international observers you have invited like that... It doesn't reflect the traditional hospitality of the Arab world," she said.

The southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) - which serves in a coalition at national level with President Bashir - has also pulled out of the parliamentary and municipal polls in 13 of the 15 northern states.

The SPLM joined the unity government in 2005 as part of a peace deal ending a two-decade civil war.

The party's secretary general, Pagan Amum, said the partial boycott was to protest about insecurity in war-torn Darfur and alleged election rigging in the country as a whole.

Some 1.5 million people died in the civil war between the mainly Muslim North and the South, where most people are Christian or follow traditional beliefs.



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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
The Economist Hunt the missing voter - 8 hrs ago
Yahoo! UK and Ireland Sudan polls to start despite fraud claims, boycotts - 11 hrs ago
UPI UPI NewsTrack TopNews - 11 hrs ago
Deutsche Welle EU observers pull out of Darfur over security concerns - 39 hrs ago
Mail & Guardian Online EU considers withdrawing Darfur poll observers - 46 hrs ago


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