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Africa and Aboriginal Tuesdays: Sudan considers federation at African mini-summit

At a summit of five African state leaders in Libya, Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir outlined plans to introduce a federal government system in Sudan in an effort to solve the crisis in Darfur. The leaders of Chad, Egypt, Libya and Nigeria hailed President Al-Bashir's initiative and said the crisis in Darfur an "absolute African issue."

President Al-Bashir told his African counterparts that federalism would now be considered in Sudan, with an aim to end the many armed conflicts that have ridden the large country for more than two decades. A federal Sudan would also improve power and wealth sharing mechanism in the vast country, the Sudanese leader said.

Sudan's Foreign Minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail, further explained that a federal system would give Darfur and other regions "the right to elect their own Governor and parliament and take care of their internal affairs." A future Sudanese federation would mean far reaching autonomy for the country's provinces.

A less centralised state had already emerged from the almost completed peace negotiations between the Khartoum government and the SPLA rebels, controlling large parts of southern Sudan. The peace deal even foresees total autonomy for South Sudan, with the possibility of full independence after a referendum to be held in five years. This however has not been discussed as an option for Darfur.

The announcement of Sudanese plans to look into a federal solution for the country came after strong pressure from the UN Security Council to stop the fighting and humanitarian crisis in Darfur. The Security Council even has threatened an embargo on Sudan's oil exports if Khartoum fails to end the fighting. This threat came after strong pressure from the governments of the US and Germany.

The five African Heads of State gathered in Tripoli however rejected Western interference in the Sudanese conflict. The leaders said the Darfuri crisis should be treated as an "absolute African issue," according to a statement issued after the summit.

Sunday's summit in Tripoli had united Libyan leader Muammar Ghaddafi, Sudanese President Bashir, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, Chadian President Idriss Deby, Nigerian President and current African Union (AU) leader Olusegun Obasanjo and AU Commission leader Alpha Omar Konaré.

The Heads of State and the AU leadership emphasised that Africa should lead the process of achieving peace in Darfur. While the united leaders rejected possible sanctions against the Khartoum regime, they nevertheless encouraged the government to adopt "measures to comply with the demands of the Security Council's resolutions."

The African Union currently has a small group of military observers stationed in Darfur, but it is preparing for a larger peacekeeping operation. While the deployment of AU peacekeepers has been delayed for one week, the Rwandan government yesterday announced it was now ready to send between 600-800 fresh troops to protect AU peace observers in Darfur.

By the end of the month, also a Nigerian battalion was to be deployed in Darfur, President Obasanjo said before heading off to Tripoli on Friday. The AU expects its peacekeeping mission in Darfur to increase to about 3500 troops within the next weeks. Sudan's three Darfur provinces total a size comparable to France.

This article appears in the Afrol News. The author is a staff writer at the Afrol News.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

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