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Rights Groups Protest Sudan President Chairing AU


The African Union Summit is set to begin early next week in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum amid a storm of controversy over who will next chair the AU. Traditionally, the president of the summit's host nation assumes the chairmanship of the African Union for one year. But activists and rights groups in Sudan and abroad say Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir is not fit to lead the AU because of Sudan's human rights record in Darfur.

More than 50 African heads of state will convene for the 2006 African Union summit in Khartoum on Monday. Sudanese president Omer Al Bashir is in line to assume the rotating AU chairmanship at the close of the summit.

But outraged rights groups say Al Bashir's human rights record in Darfur should disqualify him for the post. Al Bashir and his top officials have been accused, in numerous independent reports, of ordering and overseeing crimes against humanity in Darfur, including murder and rape.

Seven-thousand AU troops are struggling to maintain a cease-fire between government forces and rebels in the war-torn region. The AU has accused both parties of violating the cease-fire.

Mudawi Ibrahim, a prominent human rights activist, and heads Sudan's largest aid organization in Darfur, says it is absurd to think Bashir can chair the AU.

"If Al Bashir assumes the leadership, that undermines the African Union completely. If these people want the African Union to be respected and to be effective they shouldn't come and make the summit here," he said. "They are actually destroying the African Union completely. They don't have any legitimacy. You cannot be the chair of the peacekeepers at the same time your army is part of the conflict. How can you do that? How can you mediate if you are part of the conflict?"

Mudawi Ibrahim says he fears that Bashir's leadership would disrupt fragile peace talks between Darfuri rebels and the Sudan government in Abuja, Nigeria.

Izzedin Abdul, the co-founder of the Khartoum office of Darfur's largest rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Army, told VOA that if Bashir chairs the AU it will be a slap in the face to Darfuris.

"We have rejected even for Sudan to host the African Union summit due to the well-known situation in Sudan," he said. "Sudan is not in a position to host the African Union summit because Sudan has got its own problems and it can't solve [them.] How can it solve the problems of Africa? I think the African Union might commit a very big mistake if they elected the current regime president for the chairmanship of the AU"

The only African head of state to speak out against Bashir is Chadian President, Idris Deby, whose government is at odds with Bashir's. Chad recently accused Sudan of arming and harboring rebels who seek to overthrow the Chadian government.

The Sudanese government has long denied complicity in the Darfur crisis. The government is accused of arming Arab militias to conduct a scorched earth campaign to crush a 2003 rebellion.

Rebels rose against the government complaining of political and economic marginalization, sparking the conflict that has led to 180,000 deaths and displaced two million people.

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