Defiant al-Bashir to travel to Darfur

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is to travel to Darfur on Sunday, in his first visit since the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the western region.

Al-Bashir will visit the North Darfur state capital El-Fasher, an information ministry official said on Saturday.

The trip is seen as a calculated show of defiance by al-Bashir in the face of mounting Western criticism of his government’s expulsion of 13 aid agencies following the ICC’s announcement of the warrant on Wednesday.

Al-Bashir has vowed the ICC warrant will “not change anything” in the government’s plans and dismissed it as a “neo-colonial plot”.

On Saturday he danced in front of supporters from south Sudan at a rally in Khartoum, wearing a traditional feathered headdress.

“If someone wants to fight us, then they should not come with resolutions from the United Nations Security Council or the ICC,” al-Bashir told cheering supporters, brandishing a wooden spear.

“They have to come to our land to fight us themselves.”

He called the expelled aid agencies “thieves”, accusing them of taking “99% of the budget for humanitarian work themselves, and giving the people of Darfur 1%.”

The United Nations say that thousands of lives have been put at risk by the decision to expel the aid groups, and warns that more than a million people will be without food, water or healthcare.

Khartoum claims the shortfall can be replaced by national aid agencies — despite also ordering the closure of three Sudanese organisations.

Officials said that a 100 medics and a 100 tonnes of medicines will be sent to Darfur to “bridge any medical gap there”, according to the Sudanese Media Centre, a website close to the security services.

But a joint statement released on Friday by UN agencies warned that the expulsion of key aid groups would have “devastating implications” and that in their absence “much of the aid operation literally comes to a halt”.

“Aid operations in North Sudan, the largest humanitarian emergency in the world costing over two billion dollars annually, will be irrevocably damaged,” the statement said.

The expelled agencies account for “more than half” the capacity of the aid operation in Darfur, carrying out much of the United Nations’s work on the ground, it said.

“If the life-saving assistance these agencies were providing is not restored shortly, it will have immediate, lasting and profound impacts on the well-being of millions of Sudanese citizens,” it said.

“It is not possible, in any reasonable time frame, to replace the capacity and expertise these agencies have provided over an extended period of time,” it added.

On the diplomatic front, Egypt called for an international conference on Sudan while an aide to Arab League chief Amr Mussa said he travelled to Khartoum on Saturday night for talks with al-Bashir.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit sent letters to his counterparts at the UN Security Council to convene a conference that would lead to a “common vision” on Sudan, Egypt’s state news agency Mena said.

The United Nations says that 300 000 people have died — many from disease and hunger — and 2,7-million made homeless by the conflict in Sudan which erupted in February 2003. – AFP

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