African leaders gathered Monday for a summit fraught with human rights issues in a country the United States accuses of genocide, one day after Sudanese police raided a meeting of civil and human rights groups and briefly detained participants. The meeting location has divided leaders in the 53-member African Union, whose two-day meeting will encompass issues including migration to Europe, corruption, hunger, and the many conflicts on the continent that has the world's largest number of refugees. Most contentious is the chairmanship of the organization, which traditionally goes to the country hosting the summit. That would make the next chairman Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir, a military coup leader accused of fueling the conflict in Western Darfur that has killed some 180,000 people in three years, displaced 2 million and spilled over into neighboring Chad. Rebels in Darfur said Sunday they would boycott ongoing peace talks to protest the prospect, which would make Sudan both a mediator and a participant in the talks. Humanitarian workers say killings and rapes continue in Darfur, where an undermanned, ill-equipped force of 7,000 African Union peacekeepers trying to keep an April 2003 ceasefire has been attacked by all sides including the Janjaweed militia that critics say is armed and supported by el-Bashir's government, a charge he denies.
The Africans have said their peacekeeping funds for Darfur will run out by March and have urgently asked the United Nations for help. El-Bashir has cast the controversy over the African chairmanship as a fight for influence between Western countries and Africans seeking self-determination. On Sunday, he told the official Sudan News Agency that Washington was trying to foil Sudan's bid. Djibouti's Foreign Minister Mohamed Ali Youssouf said East African nations including his support Sudan. So does Egypt, which wields influence over North African states. Privately, several West African states have expressed opposition, and support for Congo to get the chair.
In the south, Zimbabwe, facing criticism of its own human rights record, is expected to support Sudan. Only Chad is openly opposed, with President Idriss Deby accusing Sudan of backing rebels seeking to overthrow him. Sudan denies that and has called for talks. Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell accused el-Bashir's government of genocide in Darfur, but the U.S. has not acted on threats to impose sanctions against Sudan, which is rich in oil. Youssouf said none of the allegations has been proved and that "Sudan's friends are numerous." He also accused some unidentified non-governmental organizations working in Darfur of being "instrumental in destabilization," saying some had their own agendas, reports the AP. N.U.