January 12, 2010 / 6:30 PM / 10 years ago

Sudan's elections need credible monitors - Britain

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Credible monitoring of Sudan’s first multi-party elections in 24 years is essential and the EU may send observers to help ensure such scrutiny occurs, Britain, Sudan’s second largest bilateral aid donor, said Tuesday.

Opposition groups in oil-producing Sudan have already alleged widespread fraud, vote buying and forged papers during last year’s registration for the elections due in three months time, threatening to boycott the vote.

Britain’s Africa minister, Glenys Kinnock, said there was an urgent need for an international effort to support the “fragile” north-south peace process ahead of the elections and a 2011 south Sudanese vote on secession.

“If we are to have a credible election there has to be freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom for the media,” Kinnock, on a three-day visit, told reporters.

The international community has raised serious concerns about a law giving Sudan’s feared intelligence services wide-ranging search and arrest powers. The law was passed last month thanks to the dominance of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s National Congress Party’s (NCP) in parliament.

Bashir was officially nominated Tuesday as a presidential candidate by the NCP and its allied parties. The nomination came after he retired as army chief to comply with the political parties law.

Last year the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant against Bashir on suspicion of committing war crimes, such as orchestrating mass killings and deportations in the western Darfur region. Khartoum denies Bashir or any other official has committed war crimes.

He is expected to be a front runner in the April presidential vote, which will take place alongside parliamentary and state governor elections.

Kinnock said she had held many talks with the EU about monitoring the elections.

“It’s not announced yet so I can smile and say I’m fairly confident (EU monitors will come).”

Last week Britain announced a 54 million pounds aid package to Sudan.

At present the Carter Centre (of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter) are the only official observers, with about two dozen people to cover Africa’s largest country of a million square miles.

Although a 2005 peace deal ended more than five decades of intermittent north-south civil war, mistrust between the former foes even after the formation of a national coalition government has left key points of the deal, including democratic transformation, unimplemented.

Kinnock said both sides needed to be pressured to sit down and work out problems ahead of the elections and the referendum.

Reporting by Opheera McDoom; Editing by Matthew Jones

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