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Sudanese Officials Meet With AU on ICC Charges

By Derek Kilner
21 July 2008

Sudan is trying to rally diplomatic support for rejecting war crimes charges against President Omar al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court. As Derek Kilner reports from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi, Sudanese officials presented their objections to the African Union Peace and Security Council in Addis Ababa.

Following the decision by the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor to seek the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for his role in the conflict in the country's western region of Darfur, Sudan has attempted to bolster international opposition to such a move.

A Sudanese delegation led by Justice Minister Abdel Basit Sabdarat went before the African Union's main security organ. The deputy head of Sudan's diplomatic mission in Ethiopia, Akuei Bona Malwal, described Sudan's opposition to issuing an arrest warrant for President Bashir.

"It should be deferred until we establish peace. Because these things they have no time limit, what is the rush now? The idea is that this warrant be deferred until there is a peace process. Of course, we are all against impunity [exemption from punishment] and we hope there will be justice at the end of it. We are not saying he should not go on investigating, but he should not go on arresting the head of state at this junction," said Malwal.

Malwal said he believes AU officials were receptive to Sudan's arguments. Following the presentation, the Peace and Security Council took up the issue of the ICC indictment in a closed session.

ICC judges are deciding whether to grant chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo's request for an arrest warrant, which could take up to a few months. With enough diplomatic backing from countries in Africa and the Middle East, as well as from China and Russia, it is possible that the U.N. Security Council could ask that the warrant be deferred for one year.

The head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, is in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, to discuss the case against President Bashir. Both the Arab League and the African Union, have expressed concern with the attempt to prosecute President Bashir.

U.N. officials, aid workers and political analysts have also cautioned that an arrest warrant could invite violent retaliation in Darfur, and jeopardize peace efforts, not only in Darfur, where such efforts have largely failed to get off the ground, but also in South Sudan, where a 2005 peace agreement appears increasingly precarious.

Many human rights advocates, meanwhile, have applauded Moreno-Ocampo for striking a blow against impunity. President Bashir would be the first sitting head of state charged by the court.

Moreno-Ocampo is seeking charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide for President Bashir. He has also said he is investigating the role of rebel leaders in an attack on AU peacekeepers last year in Darfur.

A joint U.N.-African Union mission took over from that force in January, but has suffered a number of setbacks. Fewer than 10,000 of the planned 26,000 troops have been deployed. Earlier this month, seven peacekeepers were killed in an ambush, and another was killed last week.

The U.N. estimates that between 200,000 and 300,000 people have died in the conflict in Darfur since 2003. The Sudanese government says no more than 10,000 have been killed.

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