Repression undermines Sudan elections: rights group
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Repression of political opponents in both Sudan's north and semi-autonomous south is undermining the prospects for Sudan's first democratic elections in 24 years, Human Rights Watch said on Sunday.
After decades of north-south civil war, a 2005 peace deal shared power and wealth and enshrined democratic reform in Africa's largest country. It outlined elections set for April as well as a southern Sudanese referendum on independence in 2011.
But delays in implementing the deal have fuelled mistrust between the north and south. A law forced through last month by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's dominant National Congress Party giving Sudan's feared intelligence services wider powers has further compounded matters.
"The Khartoum government is still using its security forces to harass and abuse those who speak out against the ruling National Congress Party," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch. "That is no environment for holding free, fair and transparent elections."
On Sunday in the latest of numerous accusations against the NCP, opposition presidential candidate Mubarak al-Fadil said national security forces had confiscated papers endorsing him from a party member in West Darfur.
Another opposition Umma Party parliamentary nominee Mohamed Abdallah Adouma said he was refused permission to hold a political forum in West Darfur.
"Unless emergency law in Darfur is lifted there cannot be an election there," al-Fadil said of Sudan's western region, now in its seventh year of a separate rebellion.
A national security source in West Darfur denied both charges and said political parties were free to hold forums.
"We would go to listen to their views," the source said.
Human Rights Watch stressed that the south Sudan government led by the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) had also targeted opposition party leaders.
"Authorities in southern Sudan should immediately end their arrests of people simply for their membership in a political party," said Gagnon.
The SPLM accuses many of those arrested of arming and inciting violence in the south, where tribal clashes spiralled last year killing at least 2,500 people. However, they have not brought them to trial.
Opposition parties say they may boycott the April vote if intimidation, fraud and vote-buying by the NCP continued.
The NCP denies any irregularities and accuses the SPLM of fraud in the south, where half the states registered more than 100 percent of the potential electorate. The SPLM says a 2008 census underestimated the southern states' populations.
At present the only international monitors are from the Carter Center (of former U.S. president Jimmy Carter). Human Rights Watch called for more observers to help.