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Congo leads African Union after a bid by Sudan fails

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KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — African leaders handed the African Union presidency to Congo Tuesday after Sudan's bid to lead the bloc failed over concerns it sponsored genocide in its western Darfur region.

Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Jamal Mohamed Ibrahim told a news conference that, as a compromise, his country would assume the rotating one-year presidency in 2007.

"It is a winner. Sudan is not losing," Ibrahim said afterward.

Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou-Nguesso was installed as AU chairman Tuesday, his spokesman said.

"President Sassou has been elected by consensus," spokesman Firmin Ayessa said. The previous chairman, Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo, will remain in charge of mediating the Darfur conflict, he added.

In comments that suggested lingering reservations among the bloc's 56 members, Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore said AU members would work with Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir to help him prepare to become the chairman.

"We hope that between now and next year we will be able to help him assume responsibilities and in the resolution of crises which will allow Sudan to take up the chairmanship," Compaore said.

Other delegates said no conditions were attached to Sudan's future chairmanship, prompting criticism from human rights advocates.

"If Sudan's record of atrocities makes it unsuitable to lead Africa this year, it's hard to see how el-Bashir will be the best leader to make Africa's case to the world next year," Reed Brody, a special counsel to Human Rights Watch at the conference, told the AP.

Deep concerns had emerged among AU members that Sudan's human rights record could damage the union's credibility. The organization has carved itself a crucial role in mediating crises such as the Darfur conflict, where the Sudanese government is accused of using Janjaweed militia members to unleash a campaign of murder, rape, arson and looting to stamp out a rebellion.

The conflict has spilled over into neighboring Chad, which, along with Uganda and Eritrea, accuses Khartoum of arming and supporting rebels fighting their governments. Sudan denies those charges.

The decision to defer Sudan's presidency was seen as a sign of progress in the African Union, formed four years ago to replace the Organization of African Unity, which was dismissed by many as a dictators' club. The new union promised to work on an African renaissance by promoting human rights, development and democracy.