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African Union Chooses Ghana Over Sudan

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United Nations security guards prevent journalists from entering the plenary session during the opening of the 8th African Union summitin in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Monday, Jan. 29, 2007. An African Union summit opened in Ethiopia Monday, with Sudan coming under increasing international pressure to resolve the worsening violence in Darfur. (AP Photo / Karel Prinsloo)

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, January 29, 2007 - The African Union chose Ghana to head the 53-member bloc Monday, turning aside Sudan's bid for the second year in a row because of the worsening bloodshed in Darfur.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had opened the summit with a call on African leaders to end the deadlock created by Sudan's refusal to allow U.N. peacekeepers into the violence-wracked region in western Sudan.

Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu also sharply criticized Sudan, and an aid group said it was pulling out of Darfur because it was unsafe.

Sudanese leaders were adamant that they deserved the rotating chairmanship, but international organizations opposed it, accusing the Sudanese government of taking part in the conflict in Darfur. Rebel leaders in the Sudanese region have said they would stop considering the current AU peacekeeping mission as an honest broker there if Sudan was selected.

"By consensus vote, President (John) Kufuor of Ghana has been elected to the presidency of the African Union," Alpha Oumar Konare, the AU's chief executive, told reporters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

Sudan had pushed to obtain the post at last year's summit, which it hosted, but African leaders selected Republic of Congo's president in a compromise deal in which he would hold it for a year and then hand it over to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. But the deal hinged on Sudan demonstrating progress in bringing peace to Darfur. Instead of calming, Darfur's violence in recent months has spilled into neighboring Chad and Central African Republic.

"African heads of states will have to stick to their word," Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali Sadiq had said Sunday, insisting that al-Bashir should have the post.

More than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced in Darfur since rebels took up arms against the central government in 2003. Sudan's government is accused of retaliating indiscriminately against civilians and supporting janjaweed paramilitary groups blamed for some of the worst atrocities in the conflict. Sudan's government denies the allegations.

The Sudanese government signed a peace agreement with one Darfur rebel faction in May, but violence has worsened in the region. Sudan and Chad also have been trading accusations of supporting each others' rebel groups.

Al-Bashir opposes a U.N. Security Council resolution that calls for some 22,000 U.N. peacekeepers to replace or absorb an African force. The AU has 7,000 peacekeepers struggling to end the fighting.

In a keynote speech, Ban pressed for U.N. peacekeepers for Darfur and called for aid workers to be allowed to operate in Darfur, as humanitarian agencies said their operations are on the brink of collapse.

The U.N. chief, on his first visit to Africa since taking over from Kofi Annan on Jan. 1, held talks later Monday with al-Bashir. No details were immediately available.

"The Sudanese government and other parties to the conflict treat the AU peace monitors with contempt," Tutu said in a statement to AU leaders released in his homeland of South Africa. "And time and again, they fail to comply with the promises they make to stop the killing. What is needed is an immediate cease-fire, a strengthened force with U.N. troops, and a robust mandate to protect the innocent. But while discussions drag on, people are dying."

A leading French aid group said Monday it was pulling out of western Sudan because of insecurity. Six other international charities said Sunday their work will soon be paralyzed unless urgent action is taken.
Konare called on the Sudanese government to stop aerial bombing in Darfur.

"Peace in Sudan means peace in Chad," Konare told summit delegates who also included foreign ministers and diplomats.

The summit is also focusing on assembling an African peacekeeping force for Somalia. Konare said that chaos would return to Somalia, a country that has been without a government since 1991, without a rapid deployment of peacekeepers.

Associated Press writer Alfred de Montesquiou in Khartoum contributed to this report.

Source: The Associated Press

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