Pahad: 'You can't arrest al-Bashir'

An international arrest warrant sought against Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir over allegations he masterminded genocide in Darfur is never going to be implemented, South Africa said on Tuesday.

“This action will take months but even if it is granted, what happens?” Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad told reporters.

“You can’t arrest [al-]Bashir. Who’s going to arrest him?”

International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo on Monday asked the court for an arrest warrant for al-Bashir, accusing him of running a campaign of genocide that has killed 35 000 people and forced 2,5-million to flee their homes in Sudan’s western region.

Three ICC judges will now examine the application to decide whether there are sufficient grounds for issuing a warrant, which could take several months.

Pahad said South Africa, which has about 900 troops serving as peacekeepers in Darfur, wanted to help strengthen the court but added it was “important for the ICC to take action that does not undermine its very important role”.

The chairperson of the African Peace and Security Council has already expressed concern about this action and said they don’t think it will contribute to long term peace in Darfur. We will be driven by that,” he said.

In Khartoum, the United Nations told its staff to stay at home as thousands of Sudanese rallied in support of al-Bashir.

Sudan’s Vice-President, Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, called the ICC’s move “irresponsible, illegal and unprofessional”.

China, a main investor in Sudan’s oil industry and Khartoum’s biggest arms supplier, also criticised the move.

“China expresses grave concern and misgivings about the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s indictment of the Sudanese leader,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Jianchao said at a regular news conference in Beijing.

“The ICC’s actions must be beneficial to the stability of the Darfur region and the appropriate settlement of the issue, not the contrary,” Liu said.

China now faces difficult choices over its relationship with al-Bashir just as the Beijing Olympics opens a soft spot for international pressure.

In Khartoum, thousands of Sudanese rallied outside a United Nations office in the Sudanese capital, some on horses, in support of al-Bashir, a former army general who came to power in a coup in 1989.
They chanted “Ocampo is a criminal”.

The protests, which began on Sunday, have been staged by pro-government bodies but even Sudanese who traditionally oppose al-Bashir have backed him against The Hague-based ICC.

Sudan has reassured international workers it will ensure their safety, but the United Nations raised security levels in Khartoum and Darfur ahead of The Hague court’s announcement, fearing a violent backlash.

Families have been evacuated from Khartoum and non-essential staff moved out of Darfur. - AFP, Reuters

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