Sudan has withdrawn from the competition to lead the African Union amid criticism of its human rights record, a government spokesman said Tuesday. Diplomats said the presidency would go to the Republic of Congo.

Sudan's spokesman for foreign affairs, Jamal Mohammed Ibrahim, said that his government had agreed to the compromise to end a major dispute among African heads of state.

Under the deal reached by a special African Union committee, the Republic of Congo would take up the post this year, and Sudan would assume the presidency in 2007, the diplomats said.

Critics had said that Sudan should not head the AU because of allegations of human rights abuses in its western Darfur region.

President Bush expressed concern Monday over the prospect that Sudan would chair the African Union.

"It is a concern to us, and it should be a concern to the AU nations," Bush said during a visit to Kansas State University.

Humanitarian workers say military-backed militiamen continue to rape and kill in Darfur, where 7,000 AU peacekeepers are struggling to enforce an April 2003 cease-fire between rebels and the government.

The conflict has left 180,000 people dead and spilled over into neighboring Chad.