Al-Bashir: ‘We don’t care about the decision of the ICC’

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) attempt to prosecute him for genocide and war crimes had only strengthened his position and he had no fear of extradition.

The court’s chief prosecutor last month requested an arrest warrant for al-Bashir on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

But al-Bashir, in his first interview with an international news agency since then, told Reuters the move was strengthening his hand and that his country would fight the decision of court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

”The decision of the ICC prosecutor is already solidifying our internal front, the internal front of our Sudanese people, and that is the source of our power and we will fight their actions,” al-Bashir said in Istanbul on Wednesday.

Al-Bashir, who rarely gives interviews, looked relaxed on the last day of his three-day trip to Turkey, his first abroad since the prosecutor’s announcement. The visit has added to doubts over whether other countries would be ready to arrest al-Bashir, even if a warrant is issued.

African and Arab states want the court moves put on hold, fearing they would only make it harder to bring peace to Darfur, where the prosecutor says al-Bashir’s state apparatus has killed 35 000 people and indirectly at least another 100 000.

Oil-producing Sudan’s close ally, China, has also voiced concern at the attempt to put al-Bashir on trial.

Al-Bashir is the first sitting head of state to be pursued by the ICC. Nato member Turkey has not ratified the treaty forming the court, but has been under pressure to do so as an aspiring European Union member.

‘We don’t give a damn’
Al-Bashir said he would continue to go overseas and did not fear following in the footsteps of leaders arrested and charged by other international courts, such as Bosnian Serb war-crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic and former Liberian president Charles Taylor.

”We are very confident of our internal front and we don’t give a damn about the precedents set by those going to court,” said a smiling al-Bashir, sporting a diamond-studded watch. ”We are not concerned about travelling ourselves; we have good relations with a number of countries that do not have relations with the ICC,” he said.

International experts estimate the war in Sudan’s western Darfur region has killed an estimated 200 000 people and driven 2,5-million from their homes since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government in 2003.

Khartoum says 10 000 people have been killed in Darfur.

Al-Bashir dismissed the idea of taking any action to extradite other Sudanese officials accused of war crimes by the court or of stepping down if he faces an arrest warrant.

”We are not taking any decisions regarding the actions of the ICC. We don’t care about the decision of the ICC. It is in the end a decision of the Sudanese people to decide in the next election,” he said. ”And we will refuse to give up Ahmed Haroun, because nothing was found against him.”

The court indicted State Minister for Humanitarian Affairs Ahmed Haroun and militia leader Ali Kushayb for war crimes last year, but Sudan has said they will not be handed over for trial.

Sudan plans elections in 2009 following a landmark peace deal in 2005 to end civil war between the northern-based government and southern rebels, although the United Nations has expressed doubt over whether the ballot will be held on time.

Al-Bashir rejected accusations that government forces were still attacking civilians and destroying villages in Darfur. He dismissed as propaganda Reuters video footage that showed militia carrying army identification in burned villages. ”We have a long history of fabricated tapes by journalists who use people as actors. We have these tapes. This is not evidence,” he said. — Reuters

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Thomas Grove
Thomas Grove works from Moscow. The Wall Street Journal @WSJ Moscow. Former @Reuters in Turkey, Russia, Ukraine. справок не даёт. Thomas Grove has over 9747 followers on Twitter.

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