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EU withdraws Darfur poll observers days before the elections
The EU is withdrawing its election observers from Sudan’s Darfur region only days away from what should be the first multi-party presidential, legislative and gubernatorial elections in 24 years citing safety fears.
AFP - The credibility of Sudan's first multi-party election in two decades has been thrown further into doubt after a main opposition party widened its boycott of the vote and jittery EU monitors pulled out of war-torn Darfur.
European Union election monitors, citing security concerns, had said on Wednesday they were re-assessing their deployment in the western Sudanese region of Darfur.
"If I feel that security conditions are not guaranteed -- not just for the observers but for the people of Darfur -- and if I am not certain these elections will allow for credible monitoring, I will not observe them," EU head of mission Veronique de Keyser told AFP.
Later in the day, she said: "I have decided to go back with all the team of six observers that were still in Darfur.
"It's always sad to leave this region which is such a poor region but I really knew when I came that to observe elections here, it's impossible in a credible way," she told reporters on the plane.
"There are many safety limitations."
Sudan is to hold its first multi-party general election since 1986 on April 11-13, which will include presidential, legislative and local polls.
The vote is a prelude to a referendum on southern independence scheduled for January 2011.
The former southern rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement said late on Tuesday it was extending its boycott to include the northern states in Sudan including Darfur.
But it said it would still field candidates in the sensitive border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, where the party enjoys support.
Pagan Amum, the SPLM secretary general, lashed out at Beshir's National Congress Party, accusing it of intimidation.
"The NCP continues to issue threats to observers and you can imagine if they are threatening observers to cut their limbs and noses, what will happen to Sudanese people," he said, in reference to statements Beshir had made.
The Sudanese leader had warned that if observers "intervene in our affairs, then we will cut off their fingers and crush them under our shoes."
Amum said Sudanese authorities had expelled observers with the Carter Centre in nine northern states, saying it revealed the NCP's "intolerance", but Graham Elson, field officer with the centre that was set up by US former president Jimmy Carter, denied anyone had been kicked out.
Softening his approach regarding observers, Beshir on Wednesday said he would grant Carter and his election observers unlimited access in the country.
"In two days, president Carter will arrive and I will receive him and will give him and his centre permission to go to any area of Sudan and to monitor any area in Sudan," Beshir told a rally in the north, as the election campaign begins to wind down.
A report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group accused the NCP of "long-term plans to rig the elections," including by using manipulated results of a 2008 census to draw up electoral districts in its favour.
In the run-up to the elections, opposition groups wavered over their intention to participate and on what level.
The Democratic Unionist Party, one of Sudan's two main opposition groups, said on Tuesday it would present Hatim al-Sir as presidential candidate, after an initial decision to boycott.
The other key opposition group, the Umma party, is expected to announce its level of participation in the election later on Wednesday, after it had given Beshir a list of conditions, including freezing "repressive" security measures and pushing back the election date.
The Umma and the DUP came first and second respectively in the 1986 elections three years before Beshir came to power in a military coup.
In a slight shift in position, the United States said on Monday it would accept a short delay in the landmark elections if it helped address concerns, after initially stating it was confident the vote would start on time.
But Sudan's national election commission insisted Tuesday that the vote will go ahead as planned on April 11-13.
North and south Sudan were engaged in a bitter decades-long civil war that left around two million dead and some four million displaced.
The two parties signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, which provided for both the elections and the referendum.