Jan 19, 2006 (KHARTOUM) — Sudan said on Thursday it would nominate its president as chairman of the African Union, but critics said the move would damage the continent and set back talks aimed at bringing peace to Sudan’s Darfur region.
The United States says Khartoum has carried out genocide in Darfur, a charge the government denies, but rights groups say the AU’s credibility as mediator would be undermined if President Omar Hassan al-Bashir became AU chairman.
The International Criminal Court is investigating alleged war crimes, including government backing for the Janjaweed militia, which has rampaged through Darfur looting and killing.
Khartoum has already boosted its prestige by hosting the two-day AU summit starting next Monday.
“We are going to nominate His Excellency Omar al-Bashir for the chairmanship of the African Union in the coming session. This is a diplomatic matter which we are to discuss,” Sudanese Information Minister al-Zahawi Ibrahim Malik told Reuters.
He said the chairmanship would be decided by African leaders on the first day of the summit in Khartoum, which has been spruced up to prepare for the African visitors.
The AU has a 7,000-strong mission, known as AMIS, that monitors a shaky ceasefire in Darfur between the government and rebels, who launched a revolt in 2003 complaining of neglect.
“The credibility of AMIS will be undermined among Darfuris. They will start wondering why the AU is giving this man the chairmanship when, as far as they are concerned, he is an evil man. Our credibility is at stake,” said an AU official involved in peacekeeping, who asked not to be named.
Rebels have said they will walk out of AU-sponsored peace talks in Nigeria, which currently holds the rotating AU chair, if Khartoum takes the lead. Khartoum says Nigeria will still host any peace talks if it becomes chairman.
“It (a Sudan chairmanship) would be bad for the people of Darfur. It would be bad for Africa to reward with the presidency someone alleged to have committed crimes,” said Reed Brody, a lawyer for U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.
“Africa should want someone who can to talk as an equal to the leaders of the world. Obasanjo can do that, Mbeki can do that, but Bashir cannot,” he said.
NO FORMAL RULE
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has spearheaded the AU mission in Darfur, the body’s first major foray into peacekeeping. Neither he, nor South African President Thabo Mbeki, have said whether they would back Bashir’s nomination.
The chairmanship has traditionally been handed to the AU summit host, but there is no formal rule. Obasanjo has led the organisation for two years.
“The venue of the conference and the chairmanship are not connected. It is open,” Congo Republic’s Foreign Minister, Rodolphe Adada, told Reuters in Khartoum.
Sudan’s neighbour, Chad, which accuses Sudan of backing rebels seeking to overthrow President Idriss Deby, is the only African nation which has openly campaigned against Khartoum.
Mainly Muslim Sudan may have a bloc of support from Muslim states in North Africa but diplomats say some sub-Saharan African countries want an alternative. Diplomats give conflicting accounts about whether Mbeki will back Bashir.
Also on the summit agenda, Dakar has proposed discussing the case of Chadian ex-President Hissene Habre, in exile in Senegal after being deposed in 1990. He faces an international arrest warrant from Belgium and civil society groups want the AU to compel Senegal to extradite him.