EU considers withdrawing Darfur poll observers

The European Union said on Wednesday said it was considering withdrawing its election observers from Sudan’s Darfur region over fears for their safety and restrictions on their work.

Sudan is days away from presidential, legislative and gubernatorial elections, but opposition parties have said the polls in Darfur will be a farce while a seven-year conflict continues in the region. Some have boycotted the elections fully in north Sudan, also citing fraud.

“We are considering withdrawing the observers [from Darfur],” said Veronique De Keyser, who heads the EU’s election mission in Sudan. “The safety of some of the observers in some remote parts of the country is a very big concern for me. I am also concerned about our ability to observe.”

“In some parts of Darfur the violence is terrible. The humanitarians cannot access this area. And if aid cannot access, we cannot access,” she told reporters as she flew into el-Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, to meet her six-strong team in the remote western region.

“We can only have a very partial view, so how can we observe properly in Darfur? The credibility of the mission is at stake. People have been asking how can you observe in Darfur, and this is a question I have to answer.”

De Keyser said she was particularly worried after Sudan’s President, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, threatened to expel international observers who pushed for a delay in the ballot. Al-Bashir has threatened to cut off their fingers and tongues.

“You don’t usually treat international observers you have invited like that … It doesn’t reflect the traditional hospitality of the Arab world,” she said.

War crimes
The EU team, which arrived in Darfur in mid March, consists of two observers in each of the three state capitals. Al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur, hopes to legitimise his rule with a victory in next week’s polls.

Violence flared in Darfur in 2003 when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against Sudan’s government, accusing it of neglecting the development of the region.

The United Nations estimates that up to 300 000 people may have died after the government mounted a counter-insurgency, arming mostly Arab militias. Khartoum rejects the accusation, putting the death count at 10 000.

Rebels and one UN official reported continuing clashes in the central Jabel Marra area and other parts of West Darfur last month, saying aid groups and diplomats had been barred from entering the area. Sudan’s army denied serious fighting took place.

South Sudan’s main party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, pulled out of elections in most north Sudan states on Tuesday, citing widespread fraud in the build up to the vote and the insecurity in Darfur.

Other small opposition parties have followed suit but the large Umma party on Wednesday was still discussing how far to follow suit.

De Keyser said it was too early to judge the impact of the withdrawals on the credibility of the elections. — Reuters

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

An African free trade area is in our sights

Successes and failures from other initiative such as the European Union will be instructive, but much work must be done before the African Continental Trade Area becomes a reality

Study shows land redistribution can create new jobs in agriculture in South Africa

When South Africa eventually emerges from the fog of the Covid-19 crisis, will policy makers be ready to grasp the nettle of farm scale, and promote the large-scale redistribution of land to small-scale producers?

Africa can build back better after Covid-19

The continent’s interconnectedness is what will be its catalyst for recovery

Three months in, Covid-19 poses triple threats in Africa

Health, debt and hunger are huge threats to the continent’s stability

Covid-19 and its legacy in cities

Italy’s response to the pandemic can be used as a cautionary tale not only medically but also infrastructurally

Australia to force Google, Facebook to pay for news content

Australia's new regulations will also cover the sharing of data, and the ranking and display of news content, to be enforced by binding dispute resolution mechanisms and penalties

Jailed journalist a symbol of a disillusioned Zimbabwe

Hopewell Chin’ono backed President Emmerson Mnangagwa when he succeeded Robert Mugabe. Now he’s in jail

Sisulu axes another water board

Umgeni Water’s board in KwaZulu-Natal was appointed irregularly by her predecessor, the water and sanitation minister claims

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday