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POLITICS-SUDAN: Security Essential to Ensure Peaceful Elections

Amelia Lawrence

ADDIS ABABA , Feb 1 2010 (IPS) - Peace in Sudan remains an uncertainty ahead of the country’s first general elections in 24 years, according to the African Union Commission chief.

With two months to go before the decisive presidential and parliamentary elections, the United Nations (U.N.) and the AU want to ensure that elections take place without an eruption of violence between the north and the south, which can also risk instability in the region.

Addressing media before the start of the 14th annual AU Summit in Ethiopia on Jan. 31, AU Commission chairman, Jean Ping, said the prospects for peace appeared unpredictable ahead of the crucial elections.

“We do not pretend that in 2010 there would be no crisis, but Africa hopes to find African solutions to these crises,” Ping said. The AU has also declared 2010 as being the year of peace and security for Africa, in addition to focusing on information, technology and communication.

Ping added that the body remained committed to ensuring Sudan’s April elections were peaceful.

“(The) AU will remain active to assist the Sudanese to ensure they have lasting peace.”

A recent report from the Enough Project, a project of the Center for American Progress to end genocide and crimes against humanity, warned that there was a risk of a new civil war and that both the nationwide elections and the 2011 referendum (on whether the oil-rich and semi-autonomous south should secede from the Khartoum-led north) would not be free and fair.

The Sudanese Ambassador to Ethiopia, Akuei Bona Malwal, said: “Preparations (for the) elections are ongoing, but the (possibility) of insecurity is an issue.”

He said he hoped the international community and the Sudanese authorities will ensure proper coordination so that the ‘election will take place in a peaceful manner’.

Malwal warned that ‘the question of security is essential to ensure a peaceful election’.

It has been reported from Khartoum that ‘three presidential candidates, including the only woman, have been rejected’.

This ruling has raised further doubts about the presidential and legislative elections after opposition accusations of fraud during registration and of intimidation and vote-buying by the ruling National Congress Party.

The AU High-Level Panel on Darfur, later known as the AU High Level Implementation Panel for Sudan (AUHIP), noted in Oct. 2009 that a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Darfur needed to be achieved before the April elections.

Headed by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, the AUHIP found that the people of both north and south Sudan are keen to live in peace.

“It is therefore self-evident that the resolution of the conflict in Darfur, like those in south and eastern Sudan, cannot but necessitate the restructuring of Sudan as a whole…” Mbeki said in a speech to the U.N. Security Council in Dec. 2009.

Malwal said that his country has accepted the AUHIP report and the re-appointment of the Mbeki team ‘to ensure the implementation of the plan’.

He said the Mbeki’s team was engaging with all the different role-players like non-governmental organisations, civil society, traditional leaders and government. “Mbeki’s team has a big role to play this year,” Malwal added.

United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, attended a sideline discussion on the future of Sudan held alongside the main AU agenda.

Ban said that ‘the full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) is also in the best interest of the Sudanese people’. Sudan’s first multi-party election in over two decades was agreed to in the 2005 CPA that ended the 21-year north-south civil war.

“They have taken a long time to agree on the agreement and the U.N. has been working very closely with the AU to implement the CPA.” (The U.N. partnered with the AU two years ago to establish the African Union/United Nations Hybrid operation in Darfur.)

Ban said the U.N. will ‘seek to forge consensus among member states on the way forward’. He said the body will ‘stand ready to respect the outcome of the 2011 referendum whatever the outcome’ but added that the most ideal outcome would be one of national unity.

Sudanese President Omar El-Bashir, who is awaiting an International Criminal Court decision on whether he will be tried for war crimes in his country, was recently quoted as saying that Khartoum would cooperate with south Sudan.

Some analysts point out that the comments implied a wish to accept the independence of the south.

Khartoum has been working on ‘making unity attractive’ for the south Sudanese who fought the civil war with the north over access to political power and sharing the massive oil revenue.

Both north and south Sudan’s governments have negotiation an agreement on the conditions of the 2011 referendum, in which the country will vote on whether the south will secede from the north.

“They have the right to choose their own future. We are going through a very crucial time to prepare for election and the referendum next year,” Ban said.

Ban said that a strong U.N. presence on the ground in Sudan would remain in place.

Mbeki acknowledged the importance of peace in Sudan in his speech to the U.N.

“As we carry out this work, we will be very mindful of the critical importance of Sudan to its neighbours and the rest of our continent. If is self-evident that Sudan, which shares borders with nine other countries in a volatile part of Africa, should serve as a force for peace, stability and development both in this region and in Africa as a whole,” Mbeki said.

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