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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

WANTED!

KHARTOUM - Government officials yesterday remained guarded in their reaction after the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor charged Sudan’s president with genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur in a move Khartoum warned could set fire to the region.

ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo asked the court for an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the first sitting head of state to be indicted by an international court since Liberia’s Charles Taylor and before that Yugoslavia’s Slobodan Milosevic. “Moreno-Ocampo has presented evidence today showing that... Bashir committed the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur,” the prosecutor said in a statement. Fearing an upsurge in violence from an enraged Bashir and emboldened rebels in Darfur, aid organisations have tightened security in Sudan in recent days.

Khartoum, which is not a party to the court, said it did not recognise the move, but pledged to continue with peace moves in Darfur and said it would protect United Nations staff in Africa’s largest country.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has long accused President Bashir of supporting the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels in retaliation for Uganda’s support for the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army rebel group. The LRA leader, Gen. Joseph Kony, and two other top lieutenants also have warrants of arrest issued by the ICC against them for crimes against humanity and other atrocities during their two-decade insurgency in northern Uganda. The SPLA signed a peace deal with Gen. Bashir’s government in January 2005 and formed the Government of South Sudan while a peace deal negotiated between Kampala and the LRA under the aegis of the GOSS since July 2006, is awaiting Kony’s signature and implementation. Despite these efforts to resolve the regional conflict, tensions between Kampala and Khartoum have remained high. In June while speaking at the Organisation of Islamic Conference meeting at Speke Resort Munyonyo, Mr Museveni said the Darfur conflict was between Gen. Bashir’s Arabs and black Africans and called on Islamic countries to help resolve it. “You can’t expect black people to be killed and we keep quiet,” he said.

Despite calls from the international community, including France, to respect the ICC decision, Sudan said yesterday it did not recognise any decree coming from the court. “We consider the indictment of either the president or any other normal citizen of Sudan the same -- we don’t recognise whatever comes out from the ICC, to us it is non-existent,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadig said.

In a sign that the warrant is likely to be a divisive issue, a senior Tanzanian official yesterday called upon the ICC to suspend the warrant of arrest. “We would like the ICC to suspend its decision to seek al-Bashir’s arrest for a moment until we sort out the primary problems in Darfur and southern Sudan,” Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Membe told Reuters, speaking on behalf of Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete who chairs the African Union. “We are asking ICC to re-examine its decision.” Mr Membe added that it was “not the right time” to seek Gen. Bashir’s arrest. “If you arrest al-Bashir, you will create a leadership vacuum in Sudan. The outcome could be equal to that of Iraq. There would be an increase in anarchy; there would be an increase in civil war. Fighting between Chad and Sudan would increase,” he told Reuters. A statement issued by the AU headquarters in Ethiopia said the pan-African body was holding consultations on the indictment and planned to send its commissioner for peace and security, Amb. Ramtane Lamara to Sudan to meet with President al-Bashir and other senior government officials.

Darfur is home to the world’s largest humanitarian operation and officials have also expressed concern an indictment could further stall the deployment of a UN-funded peacekeeping operation. Washington accuses the Khartoum government of genocide in Darfur, a charge it flatly denies.

Thousands of protesters chanted anti-American slogans as they rallied in Khartoum on Sunday to protest against a potential arrest warrant. After the warrants were issued, the United States said it had tightened security at its embassy and offices in Sudan while Andrew Natsios, former US special envoy for Sudan said: “This indictment may well shut off the last remaining hope for a peaceful settlement for the country.” The ICC was set up in 2002 as the world’s first permanent war crimes court.

As well as Darfur, it is investigating Uganda, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo but has no police force and only has four suspects in custody.

ICC judges issued arrest warrants for two Sudanese suspects last year -- government minister Ahmed Haroun and militia commander Ali Kushayb. Khartoum refused to hand them over. International experts say at least 200,000 people have died in Darfur and 2.5 million have been displaced since a rebellion erupted in 2003. Khartoum says 10,000 people have been killed.

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