Sunday, March 08, 2009

Sudan News Bulletin: Defiant President Omar al-Bashir Speaks in Darfur Region at Mass Rally

Defiant Sudan president visits Darfur

By Abdelmoniem Abu Edries Ali,
March 8, 2009 6:05 AM

EL-FASHER, Sudan — Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir arrived in the North Darfur state capital of El-Fasher on Sunday on his first visit since the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest.

The trip is seen as a calculated show of defiance by 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 for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in the western region.

Bashir travelled from El-Fasher airport in an open vehicle to the centre of town along a route lined with several thousand cheering supporters.

Waving flags and pictures of the president, the tightly packed crowd chanted his name. Some also shouted "Down, down Ocampo," referring to ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. "Down, down America," others called.

Bashir, wearing a safari suit and waving a stick in the air, grinned back in delight. Some supporters followed the president on horseback and on camels.

The United Nations says the aid agency expulsions will leave 1.1 million people without food, 1.5 million without health care and more than a million without drinking water.

However, foreign ministry under secretary Mutrif Siddiq warned that the expulsions was irreversible.

"The decision of the authorities expelling foreign organisations... is an irreversible decision," he said in a statement carried by the official SUNA news agency.

Sudan accuses the aid groups of cooperating with the ICC. The relief organisations deny any complicity.

"Evidence has proved their cooperation with the so-called International Criminal Court," Siddiq said.

UN agencies in Sudan have warned that the expulsion of key aid groups will have "devastating implications" and that in their absence "much of the aid operation literally comes to a halt."

The expelled organisations account for "more than half" the capacity of the aid operation in Darfur, the UN says.

Remaining organisations will be allowed to operate in Sudan "as long as they are committed to the laws regulating humanitarian work", Siddiq said.

The government is also preparing an "alternative plan" to fill the gap created by the expelled agencies, instead collaborating with "national and friendly foreign NGOs," according to the Sudan Media Centre, a website close to the security services.

However, oil-rich Sudan has seen its income slashed with the slump in the price of crude, and experts say it would be difficult to replace the support and experience of the relief agencies, even if the political will exists.

"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," the UN warned.

"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."

Monday, March 09, 2009
02:43 Mecca time, 23:43 GMT

Al-Bashir defiant at Darfur rally

Omar al-Bashir, Sudan's president, has addressed a rally in Darfur, the region in which the International Criminal Court (ICC) has accused him of carrying out war crimes.

Thousands of people gave al-Bashir a rapturous welcome on his arrival in the city of Al Fasher, the state capital of north Darfur, on Sunday.

Al-Bashir sent "a message" to foreign diplomats, aid workers and peacekeepers working in the country.

"They have to respect the rule of the country. If anyone goes further than the rule of the country, we will kick them out directly," he said.

The appearance is in line with al-Bashir's defiant stance against the ICC arrest warrant issued last week.

"They speak as if they are the masters of the world, as if they determine the fate of all the peoples of the world" al-Bashir said at the rally, in reference to the ICC.

"We reject and refuse, and we will continue to reject and refuse,' he said.

"We will never hand over any Sudanese citizen. We will not kneel to them."

However, Mohamed al-Hassan Ibrahim, the deputy head of mission at the Sudanese Embassy in Qatar, told Al Jazeera that al-Bashir's trip to Darfur was not a provocative act.

"Going to Darfur was already scheduled before the ICC decision. He is going to look at development projects and also he will be looking at a new road that is to be built from Darfur," Ibrahim said.

'Spies and thieves'

The ICC has made the unprecedented move of charging al-Bashir while he still holds office as head of state, on crimes of attacking civilians in the western Darfur region.

"Going to Darfur was already scheduled before the ICC decision. He is going to look at development projects and ... a new road"

Mohamed al-Hazzan Ibrahim, deputy head of Sudan's Qatari mission

Sudan expelled 13 of the largest foreign aid groups after the ICC's warrant was issued. Three local organisations were also shut down.

Al-Bashir, danced in front of supporters wearing a traditional feathered head dress, outside the Friendship Hall in Khartoum, the capital, on Saturday.

There he defended his expulsion of more than a dozen foreign aid groups.

He said the aid workers are "spies" and "thieves", and his supporters burnt in effigy an ICC official.

"No matter what they do, they will not sabotage peace," al-Bashir said, in reference to Khartoum's peace deal with the south of the country.

"We will protect the peace. In two years the southerners will decide - do they want one Sudan or two states?"

Humanitarian concerns

Now there are concerns for the lives of more than a million people as aid is reduced.

The role of the agencies was said to be impossible to fill, in a statement from UN agencies in Sudan on Saturday.

The loss amounts to about 40 per cent of the humanitarian workforce in Darfur.

"While some eighty-five international NGOs [non-governmental organisations] operate in Darfur, without these organisations much of the aid operation literally comes to a halt," the statement said.

Mutrif Siddig, the foreign ministry undersecretary, said that government agencies would cover those programmes lost by the expulsion of the aid agencies, which includes, Save the Children and Oxfam.

Tim McCormark, a former advisor to the UN International Criminal Tribunal and currently a professor of international humanitarian law at the University of Melbourne, told Al Jazeera that expelling the aid agencies will only make a humanitarian crisis in Darfur worse.

However, McCormark said that the ICC can not arrest al-Bashir unless he leaves Sudan.

"The arrest warrant is issued through Interpol, the international police agency. Any country that wants to co-operate with Interpol can arrest him," he said.

Arab League support

Amr Moussa, the Arab League's secretary general, met al-Bashir at the presidential palace on Saturday, to discuss the arrest warrant.

Earlier Moussa said the ICC decision provoked the "anger of the Arab League."

He said it would support al-Bashir in facing threats against Sudan.

The ICC accuses al-Bashir of personally instructing his forces to annihilate three ethnic groups - the Fur, the Masalit and the Zaghawa - and says about 2.5 million people have been victimised by his actions in Darfur.

The UN says up to 300,000 people have died since the Darfur conflict began in 2003, when ethnic minority fighters took up arms against Sudan's Arab-dominated administration for a greater share of resources and power.

Friday, March 06, 2009
18:33 Mecca time, 15:33 GMT

African states face warrant dilemma

Al-Bashir hit out at the West as he addressed throngs of supporters in Khartoum on Thursday

The African Union is facing a dilemma on how to act on the International Criminal Court arrest warrant against Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president.

The AU, which claims the warrant will disrupt peace negotiations over Sudan's western region of Darfur, has said it will send a delegation to the UN Security Council to try to halt the indictment.

The AU said after their meeting in Addis Ababa on Thursday that stopping Bashir's indictment would "give a chance for peace in Sudan".

But 30 of the AU's 53 members are signatories to the International Criminal Court (ICC), raising questions as to how they will proceed diplomatically.

Al-Bashir was indicted on Wednesday by the ICC at The Hague in the Netherlands for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur.

Agencies expelled

Al Jazeera's Yvonne Ndege, reporting from Nairobi, Kenya - Sudan's neighbour and a signatory to the ICC - said the AU's appeals to halt Bashir's indictment have so far been ignored by the international community.

Majok Guandong, Sudan's ambassador to Kenya, said he was confident African nations will not implement the decision by the ICC.

"It will be a contradiction. How can you implement a decision of an organisation that ignores your own opinion," he told Al Jazeera on Friday.

Hours after al-Bashir was indicted he began expelling foreign aid agencies from Sudan, raising fears of a further humanitarian disaster.

Rupert Colville, a UNHCR spokesman, told Al Jazeera that the decision to expel 13 aid agencies from Darfur "could be absolutely disastrous".

"These are the biggest agencies there are in humanitarian work and they're absolutely crucial. They do life-saving work in terms of providing food, clean water, healthcare. Thousands of people could die as a result of the decision [to expel the aid agencies]," he said.

"To punish civilians is a grievous dereliction of the duty of the government to care for its own people, so we absolutely appeal to the government to not link these two events together and let humanitarian work go on."

The ICC is now considering whether to add the expulsion of the agencies as another war crime charge.

'Racial undertones'

The Rome statute that set up the ICC allows the UN Security Council to pass a resolution to defer or suspend for a year the investigation or prosecution of a case.

Moses Wetangula, the Kenyan foreign minister, said the operations of the ICC have been "very suspect".

"Look at the manner in which they have handled African issues. It's not just the ICC in The Hague, the application of so called universal jurisdiction in criminal matters has been laced with some racial undertones," he said.

The Justice and Equality Movement (Jem), the most powerful rebel group in the Darfur region, said it would act on the warrant for al-Bashir.

Ibrahim Khalil, the Jem leader, told Al Jazeera: "They say the ICC does not have a mechanism to arrest him [Al-Bashir]. But we say that Jem has its own great and powerful mechanism..."

"[There is] a mechanism by the Sudanese people, a mechanism of Justice and Equality, a mechanism of co-operation with the international community. We shall fully collaborate with the Security Council and the ICC."

Abdul Wahed al-Nour, the leader the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) opposition party, told Al Jazeera that his group supported the ICC's move to arrest Bashir.

"We fully support, recognise and will co-operate with the ICC decision and we ask for the international community to co-operate with us in handing over Bashir to the court and help the Sudanese people in avoiding more violence in the country," he said.

"Law and justice must be implemented by the ICC, which can only happen with a strong international wheel behind us."

Al-Bashir has rejected the warrant, telling thousands of his supporters in Khartoum, the capital, on Thursday that Sudan was being targeted by Western powers and that the ICC was a tool of colonialists after Sudan's oil.

Prosecutor 'criminal'

The ICC indicted al-Bashir on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, which include murder, rape and torture.

The three-judge panel said it had insufficient grounds to consider charges of genocide, though the ICC said the non-inclusion of a genocide charge could change "if additional evidence is gathered by the prosecution".

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, has urged Sudan to co-operate with the court.

The UN says that up to 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur, where the world body is running one of the world's largest humanitarian missions.

Sudan maintains that only 10,000 people 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, saying they were being marginalised.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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