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05 Mar 2009 16:31
Sudan’s president told thousands of cheering supporters on Thursday an international call for his arrest on war crimes charges was a ploy by Western nations set on grabbing the country’s oil.
Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the first sitting president to be charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC), responded to his indictment over the conflict in the western Darfur region by ordering 10 foreign aid agencies to leave Sudan.
Authorities accused the aid groups of passing information to the ICC on alleged atrocities in Darfur, centre of the world’s largest humanitarian operation, and one aid official said at least three more agencies may be sent home.
Al-Bashir said the Hague-based ICC was a tool of imperialists targeting Sudan for its oil, natural gas and other resources.
“We have refused to kneel to colonialism, that is why Sudan has been targeted ... because we only kneel to God,” he told a crowd outside the Republican Palace.
Cheers of “We are ready to protect religion!” and “Down, down USA!” from the protesters interrupted his speech.
Washington has welcomed the ICC warrant.
Some in the crowd carried banners branding the court’s prosecutor a criminal and al-Bashir, 65, danced along to nationalist songs.
He earlier said the government would tackle any attack on stability.
“We will deal responsibly and decisively with anybody who tries to target the stability and security of the country,” al-Bashir told a meeting of top politicians on Thursday.
“We have expelled 10 foreign organisations ... after monitoring activities that act in contradiction to all regulation and laws,” he said.
China—a major investor in Sudan’s oil, which has sent peacekeepers to Darfur—urged the UN Security Council on Thursday to heed calls from African and Arab countries and suspend the case against al-Bashir.
The African Union said it would send a high-level delegation to press the UN’s Security Council to delay the indictment of al-Bashir for a year to give the peace process in Darfur a chance.
The ICC, set up in 2002, indicted al-Bashir on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, which included murder, rape and torture. The three-judge panel said it had insufficient grounds for genocide.
Sudan revoked the licences of several foreign aid agencies hours after the warrant was issued.
Hassabo Mohamed Abd el-Rahman, head of the government’s Humanitarian Aid Commission, told Reuters some groups had “passed evidence to the ICC” and made false reports of genocide and rape. He said many agencies were being investigated.
An aid official said later the government was set to expel three more aid agencies, bringing the total number to 13. “We fear there could be more,” the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
UN and other agencies are running the world’s largest humanitarian operation in Darfur, a mainly desert region in western Sudan.
International experts say at least 200 000 people have been killed there, while Khartoum says 10 000 have died.
A further 2,7 million people are estimated to have been uprooted by the conflict, which began when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government in 2003.
Darfur activist Hussein Abu Sharati, who says he represents residents of 158 displacement camps, said most people there were overjoyed by the ICC’s decision, but were too scared to show it.
Other camp residents said most displaced Darfuris were staying in their shelters to avoid confronting security forces.
“Inside people are happy,” said a resident of Abu Shouk displacement camp in north Darfur, who asked not to be named. “But everyone is keeping quiet. Nobody goes outside. The market is closed.”
UN officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the expulsions would have a devastating impact on Darfuris, adding that Sudanese security had already started taking computers and other assets from the agencies’ offices in Khartoum and Darfur.
Embassies have been on high alert in the build-up to the court’s decision, fearing attacks, although Sudanese authorities have promised to protect diplomatic premises.
Britain, the US and France have been repeatedly accused by Sudanese government officials of supporting the ICC. Several rocks were thrown at the British embassy after a protest against the ICC decision on Wednesday.—Reuters
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