Sudan should lift Darfur security constraints: UN
By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Sudan should amend security legislation to protect freedom of speech and assembly in its conflict-torn Darfur region ahead of a nationwide election in April, a senior U.N. official said on Thursday.
Dmitry Titov, an assistant secretary-general in the U.N. peacekeeping department, told the U.N. Security Council that freedom of speech and assembly are "essential for effective campaigning" in Sudan's first democratic poll in 24 years.
"At the moment, these basic freedoms are constrained under the 1997 emergency laws, which have been lifted in all of Sudan but continue to be applied to all three Darfur states," Titov told the 15-nation council.
He said it was "important that the National Security Law, which allows government security services to detain persons without cause, is revised or suspended before the elections begin on April 11."
Violence in Sudan's western Darfur region erupted in early 2003, when mostly non-Arab rebels began fighting the Sudanese government and Khartoum responded by mobilizing militia to quell the uprising.
The United Nations estimates the ensuing conflict claimed up to 300,000 lives and drove 2 million people from their homes. Khartoum says 10,000 people died.
Titov also referred to reports that many of the refugees living in displaced persons camps in Darfur boycotted the voter registration process.
"It seems that only relatively small numbers of internally displaced persons have registered," he said.
ELECTION CALLED FARCE
The United Nations has been warning for months that millions of refugees in Darfur might be left out of the election process. In his cautiously worded statement, Titov appeared to chide Khartoum for not doing enough to ensure the full participation of displaced persons in Darfur.
"Among measures which should have been put in place were those necessary to ensure the meaningful participation of ... internally displaced persons, refugees and other groups affected by the conflict," he said.
After the election, one of the biggest challenges will be ensuring that elected officials will represent the interests of displaced people in Darfur, he added.
Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has promised the ballot will cover the whole country, including Darfur, in a bid, analysts say, to legitimize his rule after being indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur.
Opposition groups have said the poll is bound to be a farce in Darfur, seven years into a conflict where sporadic fighting continues to drive families from their homes and state security keeps a tight grip on the main population centers.
Titov described Bashir's meeting this week in Khartoum with President Idriss Deby of neighboring Chad as a "positive development." Bashir and Deby agreed on Tuesday to end their proxy wars and work together to rebuild their border areas.
The two men's decision to meet is seen aimed at bolstering security and credibility before impending polls in both nations. Ties between the two oil-producing states have been icy, with each capital backing rebels fighting to topple the other's government.