TOPICS:Bashir flouting war crimes warrant

The Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, arrived in Egypt in a show of contempt for the international criminal court, which is seeking his arrest for war crimes in Darfur.

Bashir was met at the airport in Cairo by the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, during a one-day visit. It was his second trip outside Sudan since the arrest warrant was issued on 4 March. Egypt is a neighbour and close ally of Sudan, and has been one of the most vocal opponents of the court decision.

On Monday Bashir made a brief visit across the border to Eritrea, which remains diplomatically isolated due to its repressive regime.

While the aim of the visits was to further underline Bashir’s defiance of the international community - he immediately expelled 13 foreign aid agencies from Darfur when the warrant was announced - they carried little risk of arrest.

Neither Egypt nor Eritrea has ratified the Rome statute of the international criminal court (ICC), which itself has no police force and requires member states to make arrests on its behalf.

Ali Youssef Ahmed, head of protocol at Sudan’s foreign ministry, said: “The president has said before that the arrest warrant is not worth the ink that it is written with - and this is the message of this trip.” But a decision on whether to attend the Arab summit on Sunday in Qatar, which would require Bashir to cross international airspace, will test his resolve. Immediately after the ICC warrant was issued, Sudan’s government said Bashir would attend.

However, senior Sudanese officials and Islamic scholars have been urging him not to travel to Doha, saying it carries too much risk, even though among Arab states only Jordan is an ICC member.

Bashir is accused of orchestrating the counter-insurgency campaign in Darfur, which is mainly directed at non-Arab civilians thought supportive of rebel groups which challenged the government in 2003. More than 200,000 people have died during the conflict, mostly through starvation and disease. After being formally accused of war crimes by the ICC prosecutor in July, Bashir embarked on a charm offensive to win support from neighbours and countries in the wider region.

Both the Arab League and the African Union oppose the arrest warrant, arguing that it could jeopardise peace efforts in Darfur.

The UN security council can suspend the ICC indictment, a position favoured by Russia and China, both strong trade partners of Sudan. But the remaining three permanent council members, Britain, France and the US, have indicated they will block any such move. The trio argue that Bashir has shown little appetite for ending the conflict peacefully, and that it would send out the wrong message about ending impunity. The ICC prosecutor’s office said yesterday that it was monitoring Bashir’s movements, and that his arrest was inevitable, even if it took some time.

“We want all political leaders who might meet Omar al-Bashir to explain to him there is no possible way out.” —The Guardian