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Controversy Over Chairmanship Marks Opening Of African Union Summit


The sixth African Union Summit began in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, amid a flurry of controversy over who will assume the chairmanship of the organization. Traditionally, the head of the summit's host nation assumes the post, but dozens of rights groups say Sudanese President Omer Al Bashir should not chair the African Union because of Sudan's rights record in Darfur.

The sun rose and set on the opening of the African Union Summit in Khartoum, but the A.U. chairmanship remained unfilled.

The focus of the summit is culture and education, but the humanitarian crisis in Darfur is clearly on the mind of delegates.

Current African Union Chairman, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, praised the seven-thousand A.U. troops working to maintain a shaky ceasefire in Darfur. He had words of warning for those who continue the conflict. "The situation on the ground in Darfur remains a matter of deep concern. In spite of the efforts made by the A.U. mission in Sudan, insecurity continues to prevail, while the humanitarian situation appears not to have improved much. The resolution of the Darfur crisis is critical to the peace and stability of Sudan and the entire region. Let me say categorically to the negotiating parties in the on-going inter-Sudanese talks that we can ill-afford continued delays in arriving at workable strategies," he said.

News agencies reported prior to the summit that Darfuri rebels had threatened to walk out of peace talks in Abuja should President Al Bashir assume the chair.

Critics of a Bashir chairmanship call the idea absurd. Should Mr. Bashir assume the post, they note, he would be leading the same force that has accused his government of conducting attacks on civilians.

Mixed messages flew forth from closed sessions within the summit. Reuters reported early in the day that five member nations had asked Mr. Bashir to relinquish his bid for the position.

Later, presidential advisor Mustafa Osman Ismail told reporters on the steps of the summit hall, that the Sudanese leader would do nothing to cause a split in the African Union.

But hours later, no chairman had yet been named.

Sources inside the conference later reported that a committee composed of heads of state from five nations will meet to decide the fate of the African Union chair.

The summit will enter a second day of delegations before wrapping up Tuesday evening.