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KHARTOUM (Reuters) - South Sudan's dominant party on Tuesday accused the north of trying to skew April's national elections by asking the northern army to transport ballot papers to the semi-autonomous south.
April's multi-party presidential and legislative elections are Sudan's first such polls in 24 years. But accusations of fraud are already mounting and on Monday President Omar Hassan al-Bashir threatened to expel international electoral monitors.
The United Nations was due to transport the ballots by helicopter around the war-ravaged south but Bashir's ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has delayed the pilots' visas, a U.N. source and opposition party officials said.
"They (the NCP) are sabotaging the coming of the U.N. pilots. They want to control the whole election process," said Yasir Arman, the southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement's candidate for the national presidency.
The SPLM, a former rebel group, controls most of the south's semi-autonomous government.
He said Bashir's deputy, Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, had asked SPLM chief and south Sudan President Salva Kiir to allow the army to transport the ballots by air to and around the south, which has few roads.
"Salva declined to accept that and then Abel Alier (head of the National Elections Commission) wrote a letter with the same request, which shows the coordination between the NEC and the NCP," Arman added.
Both north and south have separate armies and, after more than two decades of civil war, there is little trust between the partners in the 2005 accord that ended the conflict and paved the way for the elections.
The letter is the latest in a string of opposition accusations that the NEC is biased towards Bashir's party. They were also angered when the NEC awarded a contract to print the presidential and governors' ballot papers to a Sudanese government company.
The NEC told Reuters its letter was a contingency plan but that the United Nations was now on track to transport the ballot papers to the south.
"There was a contingency plan that if we could not find someone to move to the south then we may have asked the military to help by availing helicopters," Abdallah Ahmed Abdallah, deputy head of the NEC, told Reuters. "This is now not needed."
Sudan's northern army said it did not have any information about the matter and the NCP was not immediately available to comment.
The U.N. source, who declined to be named, said the visa problem was eventually resolved but that the U.N. was aware of the NEC request to allow the northern army to transport the ballots. "It didn't make any sense and we made that clear in our discussions," the source added.
Opposition presidential candidate Mubarak al-Fadil told Reuters the NCP wanted to control the electoral process.
"The NCP is getting very nervous. They are trying to manipulate the result of the elections," al-Fadil said. "They printed the ballots here and now they want to take control of the rest of the ballots."