SA backs delay of al-Bashir arrest warrant

South Africa is trying to persuade the International Criminal Court (ICC) to delay its indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on genocide charges, Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said on Friday.

She said issuing an international arrest warrant for the Sudanese leader would compromise prospects of peace in Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region.

”Our view is clear. We don’t condone impunity but at the same time peace is very important to the people of Sudan, in Darfur in particular, so we have to give the people of Sudan a chance for peace,” she said in Cape Town after talks with her Sudanese counterpart, Deng Alor.

”So we are working for a deferral so that the peace process can proceed, but at the same time Sudan can demonstrate that it is not for impunity.”

The ICC is expected to issue an arrest warrant for al-Bashir this month in connection with war crimes, including genocide, in Darfur where six years of fighting has claimed 300 000 lives, according to the United Nations.

If the ICC goes ahead with their plans, al-Bashir would be the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the permanent war-crimes tribunal in The Hague.

On Friday, Alor reiterated a call by Khartoum for the ICC to wait a year before bringing charges against al-Bashir, and warned that if it acted sooner, the country would refuse to hand over the president for prosecution.

”If it happens, President al-Bashir is not going to be arrested just like that. He will not be arrested if the Sudanese do not want him to be arrested.

”As long as he is in Sudan and there is no decision by anybody in Sudan to hand him over, he will just be at large in Sudan,” he said.

”We are asking for one year because this will give us time to work for a peaceful resolution in Darfur.”

Alor warned that issuing an arrest warrant for al-Bashir would ”have political consequences”.

”We have a fragile political situation. I cannot tell you how much it will impact, but it will impact on the situation.”

He welcomed a deal on trust-building measures signed this week in Doha between Sudan and Darfur’s most active rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), and said other factions must be brought to the negotiating table soon.

”There are 10 or 15 rebel groups in Darfur. If you want peace it must be comprehensive. Others are going to join … we are working through friends to get them to join the next round, which we are hopeful will be in the next few weeks.

The conflict in Darfur broke out in February 2003 when ethnic minority rebels rose up against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum.

International opinion is divided on the ICC’s plans to indict al-Bashir.

African and Arab nations have argued that the step would derail peace efforts in the region, where fighting has also displaced more than 2,2-million people.

Meanwhile, France has called for a deal with al-Bashir, in which the process would be suspended if he would surrender two senior aides who the ICC has charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

However, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said justice must take its course. — Sapa

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