Ethiopia greeted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir with a full state reception on Tuesday at the start of his latest trip abroad in defiance of an international arrest warrant.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued the warrant for the Sudanese leader last month, charging him with masterminding war crimes in Darfur in western Sudan.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi met Bashir at the airport, where a band played as he left his plane and Sudanese living in Ethiopia cheered his arrival.
“Sudan is our immediate neighbor,” Meles told reporters after talks with Bashir in Addis Ababa. “Our relationship is not affected by the indictment.”
Bashir has visited Egypt, Eritrea, Libya, Qatar and Saudi Arabia since the ICC issued the arrest warrant.
“[The warrant] will not affect the movement or activities of the president or any other Sudanese official,” Bashir told reporters, adding that the indictment was positive for Sudan because of support from the African Union and the Arab League.
The African Union, whose base is in Addis Ababa, says the warrant is likely to compromise peace efforts in Darfur and the 53-member organization wants the indictment deferred.
Western diplomats in the Ethiopian capital are boycotting a state dinner in Bashir’s honor but the majority of African ambassadors will attend.
“Africa is together on this because there are powerful African leaders scared that their crimes might be next on the ICC’s agenda,” a Western diplomat said.
Experts say at least 200,000 people have been killed and more than 2.7 million driven from their homes in Darfur in almost six years of ethnic and political violence.
Khartoum, however, says only 10,000 people have died and has expelled 13 foreign aid groups it accuses of helping the court to build the charges against the president.
None of the countries Bashir has visited so far since his indictment — the court’s first against a sitting head of state — are ICC members.
Bashir and several senior ministers are in Ethiopia for two days to discuss bilateral issues — a two-yearly event.