U.S. may support “brief” Sudan election delay


Sudan’s first widespread elections in 24 years slated to begin on Monday have come under a cloud as several opposition parties plan to boycott the poll and European Union election observers withdrew from the Darfur region, saying safety concerns hindered their work.

“I think our view has been that if a very brief delay were decided to be necessary, and we thought that a brief delay would enable the process to be more credible, we would be prepared to entertain that,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told reporters.

“That’s obviously up to the authorities themselves, but the larger picture is that much is awry in this process, and that is a real concern,” she said.

Sudan’s U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem, rejected talk of delaying the election.

“The government itself cannot do that and elections are not going to be delayed at all,” Abdalhaleem told reporters.

“After all, these types of functions is the responsibility of the national electoral commission and not the government,” he said.

Japan’s Yukio Takasu, the current president of the Security Council, told reporters several delegations had expressed concerns about the upcoming elections, but made clear there is no official council position on the matter.

China, one of the permanent veto-wielding members of the 15-member panel, is seen as acting as a protector for Sudan.

CONDITIONS ON THE GROUND

Rice said conditions in Sudan, as reported to the Security Council by the head of U.N. peacekeeping, Alain Le Roy, were “quite disturbing.”

Le Roy, she said, told the panel there are restrictions on freedoms of speech and association as well as harassment of the press and limitations on access to polling stations for many, particularly in Darfur.

The United Nations is providing technical and some limited logistical support in the run-up to the vote, Le Roy said in a statement.

“We continue to express some concerns regarding aspects of the electoral environment,” Le Roy said, adding that his office has stressed respect for political freedoms and equal access to the media.

There are 750 international and 18,000 domestic election observers in Sudan, Le Roy said. The total U.N. military peace-keeping force there is 10,000.

Abdalhaleem rejected claims of problems with the election process and said the nation “looks with pride to this event.”

“We have no electoral crisis at all. Everything is set for the elections. We may have some crisis within some political parties. This is their problem, not the problem of the Sudanese people,” Abdalhaleem said.

He fired back at the EU for pulling its observers out of Darfur, a remote western region roughly the size of France.

“I think we advise our brothers, the EU observers, we advise them not to send signals that may affect the mood of the election hear and there,” Abdalhaleem said.

Violence erupted in Darfur in 2003 when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the state after accusing Khartoum of neglecting Darfur.

The United Nations estimates that up to 300,000 people have died after the government mounted a counter-insurgency, arming mostly Arab militias. Khartoum rejects the accusation, putting the death count at 10,000.

Sudan is currently ruled by the National Congress Party (NCP), headed by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who was indicted in March of 2009 by the International Criminal Court for suspected war crimes in Darfur.

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