Sudan's preparations for its first national elections in nearly a quarter century raised diplomatic eyebrows Thursday at the United Nations.
"We continue to express some concerns regarding aspects of the electoral environment," Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy told reporters after briefing the Security Council.
"We have encouraged the government, the National Elections Commission and political parties to take steps to ensure respect for political freedoms and equal access to the media."
Though he said he had been encouraged by some steps taken by Sudan, he said it would be up to the 750 international and 18,000 domestic observers to assess whether the April 11-13 elections are legitimate. The United Nations has been giving technical assistance and logistical support to the National Elections Commission.
Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, was less diplomatic - telling reporters she found much of what she had learned about Sudan's election preparations "quite disturbing."
Rice said Le Roy's briefing underscored U.S. concerns about government restrictions on political freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of association, the opportunity to campaign, harassment of the media and limitations on access to polling stations, particularly in the Darfur region.