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African Union Picks Ghanaian as Its Leader, in Snub to Sudan

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, Jan. 29 (AP) “” The African Union on Monday chose President John Kufuor of Ghana to lead the 53-member bloc. Because of the worsening violence in Darfur, the group turned aside, for the second year, Sudan’s effort to win the post.

The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, opened the meeting, asking the African leaders to end the deadlock created by Sudan’s refusal to allow United Nations peacekeepers into Darfur, the violence-plagued region in western Sudan.The Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu also sharply criticized Sudan on Monday, and an aid group said it was leaving Darfur for safety reasons.

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

“By consensus vote, President Kufuor of Ghana has been elected to the presidency of the African Union,”? Alpha Oumar Konaré, the African Union’s chief executive, told reporters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

Sudan tried to obtain the post at last year’s meeting, for which it was the host, but African leaders selected the Congo Republic’s president in a compromise deal in which he would hold it for a year and then hand it over to President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan.

But the deal hinged on Sudan demonstrating progress in bringing peace to Darfur. Instead of calming down, Darfur’s violence in recent months has spilled into neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic.

“African heads of states will have to stick to their word,”? Ali Sadiq, the Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Sunday, insisting that Mr. 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 paramilitary groups called janjaweed that are blamed for some of the worst atrocities in the conflict. Sudan’s government denies the accusations.

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.

Mr. Bashir opposes a United Nations Security Council resolution that calls for 22,000 United Nations peacekeepers to replace or absorb an African force. The African Union has 7,000 peacekeepers struggling to end the fighting.

Mr. Ban, on his first visit to Africa since taking over from Kofi Annan on Jan. 1, held talks with Mr. Bashir that were “useful and constructive,”? according to a United Nations statement.

“I expressed my deep concerns over the continuing violence and deteriorating human rights situation in Darfur, which afflicts millions of people,”? Mr. Ban’s statement said. “I urged President al-Bashir, as I urge all parties, to cease hostilities, as an essential foundation for a successful peace process, and humanitarian access.”?

Mr. Bashir agreed “to facilitate such access, and expressed willingness to cooperate with international efforts toward that end,”? Mr. Ban said.

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