/ 1 December 2010

African Union backs Sudan’s Bashir

The African Union (AU) expressed confidence in Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), as his country faces a crucial referendum on independence for the south.

The pan-African body’s Peace and Security Council backed Bashir and his southern vice president Salva Kiir to ensure peace in the country, whatever the result of the vote.

It also called for the suspension of ICC proceedings against the Sudanese president and the lifting of international sanctions against Khartoum in a statement following a two-day meeting in Tripoli on Monday and Tuesday.

Bashir has been threatened with arrest under warrants issued by the ICC for genocide, warcrimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sudan’s western region of Darfur, where a rebellion has been raging for seven years.

The warrants have hampered his movements outside Sudan, though a number of African countries have hosted him with impunity.

European pressure
The Peace and Security Council “assured the Sudanese parties of Africa’s full solidarity and support and called on the international community to facilitate and support the Sudanese parties in their efforts, including by deferring the process initiated by the ICC and by removing the sanctions against Sudan”, the AU’s statement read.

“The council expressed AU confidence in the leadership of Oma al-Bashir and the first VP to lead Sudan into a new era of peace, regardless of the outcome of the referendum on self determination in January 2011,” it added.

The union met in the wake of a summit with the European Union in Tripoli which Sudan boycotted, complaining of “European pressure” to shut out Bashir.

Bashir accused European governments of “hypocrisy” for urging him to implement Sudan’s 2005 north-south peace accord while attacking his legitimacy.

The Sudanese leader, whose involvement is crucial to regional peace efforts, was also to have attended the African Union peace and security talks.

“This will be the last opportunity for African leaders to get together before January’s referendum in south Sudan,” an African diplomat complained.

Only six weeks away, the January 9 independence vote in south Sudan could partition Africa’s largest country.

The referendum is the centrepiece of the 2005 peace deal that ended two decades of conflict between the majority Muslim north and largely Christian south which left two-million people dead. — Sapa-AFP