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AU Strikes Compromise for Chairmanship

The sixth African Union summit ended with a compromise in Khartoum, Tuesday. The summit was marred by controversy over who would assume the chairmanship. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was in line, but his rights record in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region provoked criticism that he is not fit for the post.

It is Congo in 2006 and Sudan in 2007. The highly disputed African Union chair was awarded on Tuesday to the Congo Republic. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir will assume the chair in 2007. Mr. al-Bashir was in line for the chairmanship, which traditionally goes to the summit's host nation.

Mr. al-Bashir's taking over the post had been disputed by rights groups who say he is not fit to chair the African Union. The A.U. currently has 7,000 peacekeepers struggling to maintain a cease-fire in Darfur and has accused the Sudan government of human rights abuses in the region.

The decision about the A.U. chair was to have been made Monday, but it was delayed due to the controversy.

A seven member committee, including heads of state from Botswana, Gabon, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Djibouti, Tanzania and Burkina Faso met last night to decide the fate of the A.U. chair.

Sudanese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Jamal Ibrahim announced the decision this morning.

"Sudan shall assume the presidency of the African Union in the year 2007," said Ibrahim. "The region of central Africa will nominate a candidate for the chairmanship for the year 2006."

But rights groups are unlikely to approve the decision.

"Its hard to see how Sudan is going to be any more qualified next year to assume the chair than it is this year," commented Reed Brody, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch. "I think it took courage for the leaders and a break with African diplomatic tradition to say that to al-Bashir, that Sudan's human rights record disqualified it this year, but unless the 2 million people of Darfur are returned to their homes and the policy of scorched earth is stopped and its perpetrators brought to justice, it's hard to see how Sudan is going to be any better next year at making Africa's case to the world than it is this year."

Brody added he hopes the decision compels Sudan to clean up its act.

The decision about who would chair the African Union held up much of the summit which was to focus on culture and education.

The summit will wrap up Tuesday evening in Khartoum.