Fri, Mar 27, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Sudanese president travels to Egypt in defiance of ICC

THE GUARDIAN , KHARTOUM

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir arrived in Egypt yesterday on Wednesday in a show of contempt for the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is seeking his arrest for war crimes in Darfur.

Bashir was met at the airport in Cairo by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a one-day visit. It was his second trip outside Sudan since the arrest warrant was issued on March 4. Egypt is a neighbor and close ally of Sudan and has been one of the most vocal opponents of the court decision.

On Monday Bashir made a brief visit across the border to Eritrea, which remains diplomatically isolated because of its repressive regime.

While the aim of the visits was to further underline Bashir’s defiance of the international community — he immediately expelled 13 foreign aid agencies from Darfur when the warrant was announced — they carried little risk of arrest.

Neither Egypt nor Eritrea has ratified the Rome statute of the international criminal court (ICC), which itself has no police force and requires member states to make arrests on its behalf.

Ali Youssef Ahmed, head of protocol at Sudan’s foreign ministry, said: “The president has said before that the arrest warrant is not worth the ink that it is written with — and this is the message of this trip.”

But a decision on whether to attend the Arab summit on Sunday in Qatar, which would require Bashir to cross international airspace, will test his resolve. Immediately after the ICC warrant was issued, Sudan’s government said Bashir would attend.

However, senior Sudanese officials and Islamic scholars have been urging him not to travel to Doha, saying it carries too much risk, even though among Arab states only Jordan is an ICC member.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem al-Thani, who visited the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, on Tuesday, said that while he had come under international pressure not to receive Bashir, an invitation had been extended.

“We respect international law and we respect the attendance of President al-Bashir and welcome him. It is a purely Sudanese decision,” he said.

Bashir is accused of orchestrating the counter-insurgency campaign in Darfur, which is mainly directed at non-Arab civilians thought supportive of rebel groups that challenged the government in 2003. More than 200,000 people have died during the conflict, mostly through starvation and disease.

After being formally accused of war crimes by the ICC prosecutor in July, Bashir embarked on a charm offensive to win support from neighbors and countries in the wider region.

Both the Arab League and the African Union oppose the arrest warrant, arguing that it could jeopardize peace efforts in Darfur.

The UN security council can suspend the ICC indictment, a position favored by Russia and China, both strong trade partners of Sudan. But the remaining three permanent council members, Britain, France and the US, have indicated they would block any such move. The trio argue that Bashir has shown little appetite for ending the conflict peacefully.

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