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China to send observers to Sudan for referendum
Beijing (AFP) Jan 4, 2011
China said Tuesday it would send observers to its close ally Sudan, where voting on an independence referendum for the south of the country is due to begin at the weekend.
"At the invitation of both sides, China will send an observation mission for the referendum," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters.
China -- which does not elect its leaders by popular vote -- is a key supporter of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in the Darfur region.
It is also a military supplier and the biggest buyer of the country's oil.
"China hopes that the referendum will be held in a fair, free, transparent and peaceful atmosphere, and all parties involved should be committed to peace and stability in Sudan," Hong said.
Almost four million people have signed up to vote in southern Sudan's referendum, which is due to begin on Sunday and last until January 15, organisers said Monday.
North and south Sudan signed a peace deal in 2005 after a devastating 22-year civil war, which included holding a referendum on whether the south secedes or remains part of a united country.
China had previously sent observers to Sudan when it held its first multiparty elections in 24 years last April, which led to Bashir's re-election.
China congratulated Bashir for a poll victory marred by opposition boycotts, allegations of fraud and questions from European election monitors over transparency.
earlier related report
"A military option is still on the cards," Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) chief James Victor Gbeho told reporters a day after African mediators held talks with the bitter rivals for the presidency.
"It is without doubt that the ECOWAS position is that if there is no joy in exploiting the peaceful situation then the military objective can also be considered as a tool for sustainable resolution of the crisis in Cote d'Ivoire," he said.
Gbeho added however that if there were even a "half a percent chance" of a peaceful solution to the standoff, it would be exploited in "order to obviate the force option."
"We are aware of the dangers in the force option particularly in a country like Cote d'Ivoire where almost all citizens and ethnic groups of our ECOWAS region are represented, and so it is an option that must be used with a lot of circumspection," he said.
ECOWAS agreed at its last summit that Gbagbo must cede power to Alassane Ouattara, internationally recognised as the winner of November 28 elections, or face military intervention by the regional bloc.
West African regional military chiefs met in Abuja last week and set in motion plans to oust Gbagbo if negotiations fail, according to a Nigerian defence spokesman.
A follow-up meeting to fine-tune the "last-resort" plan is scheduled for Mali on January 17 and 18.
"Our chiefs of defence staff have been meeting," Gbeho said.
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