Thursday, March 05, 2009

Sudan News Update: ICC Warrant Denounced as Imperialist Plot

Dancing Bashir scoffs at Darfur warrant

By Peter Martell
BBC News, Khartoum

Waving a stick in the air in front of a supportive crowd of thousands, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir punched the air to roars of support.

He looked little like a man on his first full day as an international fugitive - following an arrest warrant on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Some 10,000 protesters crammed themselves into central Khartoum in support of the president, following the issuing on Wednesday of an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court.

'Real criminals'

Instead Mr Bashir scoffed at the warrant, telling the mass rally in the packed downtown district of Khartoum that Western leaders were the real criminals.

"The true criminals are the leaders of the United States and Europe," he told the crowds to loud cheers.

He in turn accused the United States of genocide against the Native American Indians, as well as in Vietnam and in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945.

"One day we will take them to justice," he added.

It was not clear if the president was joking, but the crowd loved it.

According to the United Nations, some 300,000 have died in Darfur since the conflict erupted in 2003 and more than two million have been displaced - figures strongly rejected by Khartoum.

Street party

At one point, the dancing 65-year-old even gave tongue-in-cheek thanks to the ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo - for bringing the Sudanese together on the streets.

The roads were clogged far out from the centre with busloads of protesters travelling to the demonstration, singing in support of Mr Bashir as they went.

Not all support Mr Bashir. There is little love lost for the leader in those areas affected by the long years of fighting with Khartoum, such as Darfur, the east or the south.

But here in the heart of government loyalists, there was almost a party atmosphere.

A group of women chanted "Down with Ocampo", while a column of school-children shouted, "Down, down America".

'Western spies'

But others grew angry when Mr Bashir accused Western nations of neo-colonialism, and directed their anger at the few foreigners in the crowd.

"We will fight anyone who thinks they can stop the president," said one demonstrator.

"We will show you - the Western nations - what we are made of," a colleague added.

Asked what they thought of the expulsion of 10 aid agencies accused by Khartoum of collaborating with the ICC, protesters seemed not to care.

"We don't need Western spies," one spat.

Amnesty International has warned that more than 2.2 million vulnerable Sudanese face the risk of starvation and disease if the expulsions continue.

But as the angry protesters closed in with a threatening manner, the message was clear: "All foreigners go, all of you, go now," they shouted.

Other Sudanese rushed to offer reassurance that foreigners were welcome, but had a similar attitude.

"We just need a Sudanese solution to a Sudanese issue," one elderly man explained more calmly.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/03/05 18:38:02 GMT

Sudan defies Hague court, expels aid agencies

Thu Mar 5, 2009 12:51pm EST

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - 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, 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, center of the world's largest humanitarian operation, and one aid official said at least three more agencies may be sent home.

The agencies expressed outraged, denying any links with the ICC and saying their expulsion put thousands of lives at risk.

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 after his speech Bashir, 65, danced along to nationalist songs, waving his cane in the air.

He earlier said the government would tackle any attack on stability. The ICC has no powers of arrest and relies on national police forces to hand suspects over.

"We will deal responsibly and decisively with anybody who tries to target the stability and security of the country," Bashir told a meeting of top politicians on Thursday.


China, a major investor in Sudan's oil which has sent peacekeepers to Darfur, urged the U.N. Security Council on Thursday to heed calls from African and Arab countries and suspend the case against Bashir.

The African Union (AU) said it would send a high-level delegation to press the Security Council to delay the indictment for a year to give the peace process in Darfur a chance.

It also appealed to Sudan to maintain peace and protect both its citizens and the organizations helping them.

Sudan expert Alex de Waal said the indictment could wreck delicately balanced peace efforts between north and south Sudan and in Darfur in his blog http:/

People were misguided if they thought the court would encourage Sudanese politicians to replace Bashir in a coup, or bring about a quick resolution to the Darfur conflict, he wrote, adding. "I for one cannot see a political way out of this mess."

The ICC, set up in 2002 by international statute and not part of the U.N., indicted Bashir on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and torture.

Sudan revoked the licenses of several foreign aid agencies hours after the warrant was issued. On Thursday, Medecins Sans Frontieres' French section was added to the list.

"We are outraged about the situation. It leaves thousands and thousands of people in Sudan without adequate medical care at the moment when meningitis is on the breakout," Meinie Nicolai, MSF's Operational Director, said in Johannesburg.

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.

MSF's Nicolai and Oxfam both denied any links with the ICC. The UK-based group said it was pulling international staff back to Khartoum and Darfur capitals while it appealed the decision.

International experts say at least 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur, a mainly desert region in western Sudan, 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."

U.N. 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 in Khartoum were on high alert, although Sudanese authorities have promised to protect them and embassy officials said Thursday's protest had dispersed peacefully.

(Additional reporting by Alaa Shahine in Cairo, Zimkhitha Sulelo in Johannesburg, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Barry Malone in Addis Ababa)

(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Sudan's president calls arrest warrant a conspiracy of new 'colonialism'

Thursday, 05 March 2009

KHARTOUM, Sudan - Sudan's president, wanted by an international court on war crimes charges, denounced the tribunal, the UN and aid agencies on Thursday as part of a new "colonialism" that aims to destabilize his country.

President Omar al-Bashir danced and waved a cane defiantly before thousands of supporters, as the arrest warrant had its first repercussions on the ground.

Sudan ordered at least 11 aid agencies to leave Darfur and cease operations in retaliation for the International Criminal Court's decision to issue an arrest warrant. The groups started the process of moving out on Thursday.

Aid workers warned that the expulsion order could spark a humanitarian crisis for up to two million people in Darfur who are directly served by the agencies, receiving food, shelter and medical supplies.

In Zamzam Camp, one of the largest Darfur refugee camps, residents said aid workers who operate daily in the camps did not show up on Thursday.

Refugees said they now feared what will happen when their most recent monthly delivery of food and other supplies run out, if aid workers don't return. Particularly worrisome is the pullout of health workers, and the possibility of disease outbreaks in the upcoming rainy season.

"After God, we only have the organizations" to help us, said Zamzam camp resident Ibrahim Safi, 34. He called the expulsion order a "catastrophe."

Speaking for the first time since the warrant was issued Wednesday, al-Bashir told a cabinet meeting that those agencies, the UN and the tribunal are "tools of the new colonialism" meant to bring Sudan and its resources under control.

Al-Bashir accused the aid organizations of trying to disrupt peace efforts in Darfur, profiting from the conflict and interfering with foreign investment. He said his government ordered them out of Darfur because they violated the law.

"We in Sudan have always been a target of the UN and these organizations because we have said, 'No'," al-Bashir said. "We said the resources of Sudan should go to the people of Sudan."

Hasabo Abdel-Rahman, the head of the government agency co-ordinating humanitarian affairs, also accused the aid groups of co-operating with the ICC and offering the court "false" testimonies.

At least 2.7 million people in the large, arid region of western Sudan have been driven from their homes, most to camps in Darfur and neighbouring Chad, in the war between Darfur rebels and the government since 2003. Even many who remain in their homes depend on international aid to survive.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Sudan's order "a serious setback to life-saving operations in Darfur." The aid groups, which included Oxfam, CARE and Save the Children, protested that they had nothing to do with the Netherlands-based ICC's decision.

Medecins Sans Frontieres, also known as Doctors Without Borders, said its French branch was ordered expelled - a day after its Dutch section received the order to stop operating in Darfur.

UN agencies were expected to continue working in Darfur. But it was unclear how the expulsion orders would affect supply distribution, since much of the UN humanitarian supplies are given to aid agencies to deliver.

"The impact is going to be huge. We were assisting 600,000 people in parts in Darfur with lifesaving activities like water and food distribution," said Bea Spadacini, a Kenya-based spokeswoman for CARE.

She said CARE's 650 employees in Sudan, a majority of whom are Sudanese, stopped working Wednesday after the government revoked its licence.

In the capital, Khartoum, senior UN officials were meeting with government officials, trying to negotiate a deal to stay.

Al-Bashir, who faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, is accused by the ICC of overseeing an anti-insurgency campaign in Darfur in which atrocities were carried out against civilians. At least 300,000 people have died in Darfur in the fighting, which pits ethnic African rebels against the Arab-led Khartoum government and Arab militiamen.

Appearing before tens of thousands of supporters at a Khartoum rally Thursday after the cabinet meeting, al-Bashir warned international missions and organizations still operating the country "to respect themselves," saying they would be "humiliated" if they infringe on Sudan's sovereignty.

Al-Bashir danced with the cheering crowd outside his Republican Palace in the biggest demonstration in Sudan in years. "We are ready to resist colonialism," he said, jabbing his cane in the air as he spoke. "We are ready to defend our religion."

The arrest warrant is the ICC's first against a sitting head of state. Al-Bashir has rejected the charges and his government has said it will not co-operate with the court. UN officials said their staff will continue to deal with al-Bashir in Sudan because he remains the president of the country.

International groups might have drawn the president's ire in part by repeatedly criticizing China, which buys two-thirds of Sudan's petroleum exports, for not using its economic leverage to apply more pressure on al-Bashir's government.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a news conference Thursday that China backs a call by the African Union and Arab countries to have any prosecution of al-Bashir deferred.

Warrant sparks anger in Khartoum

By Peter Martell
BBC News, Khartoum

Thousands of protesters poured out in the streets of Sudan's capital, Khartoum, just minutes after an arrest warrant was issued for President Omar al-Bashir.

Many directed their anger towards the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

"This Ocampo is crazy if he thinks he will take our president," said protester Ahmed Fanous, carrying a placard of the lawyer defaced with a cross.

"He is a tool of the West to attack Sudan."

The ICC issued an arrest warrant on Wednesday for Mr Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Mr Bashir, who denies the charges, has already dismissed a warrant as being "not worth the ink" in which it is written.

The warrant was long expected, and protesters quickly took to the streets as the news broke.

'Treachery' of ICC

Busloads of furious demonstrators arrived to a rally at a government building in the downtown area of Khartoum, singing and banging drums.

Some came direct from government offices to join an organised rally, but others said they had joined the demonstrations spontaneously. Many carried giant posters of the president in support.

"Down to America, down to the UN," one group of women chanted.

"We will support President Bashir until we die," screamed another.

Others warned that the warrant would have a negative impact to Sudan.

"This will bring trouble to our country - this court should not be doing this," said teacher Mohammed Hussein, shaking his head.

Another pointed to a series of posters of Mr Bashir recently erected around the capital, praising the president's
"virtues" and criticising the "treachery" of the world court.

"This man is our leader, so do they really think we would allow anyone to come and put him in prison?" asked another demonstrator, Abubaker Omar.

"Why do they do this to Sudan, and never to the leaders of America?" he added.

Reprisal fear

Larger demonstrations are expected in coming days, and security has been increased around foreign embassies or United Nations offices. The government have vowed to protect foreigners.

But not all support Mr Bashir - especially those Sudanese from areas affected by the long years of fighting with Khartoum such as Darfur, the east or the south.

However, people said they feared reprisals if they spoke out now to support the arrest warrant.

"He must face justice for what he has done," said a Darfuri now living in Khartoum, who asked not to be named.

"But I don't think this [warrant] is going to change anything for us. If anything it could make things worse."

According to the United Nations, some 300,000 have died in Darfur since the conflict erupted in 2003 and more than two million have been displaced - figures strongly rejected by Khartoum.

Others said they were concerned at what the warrant could mean for wider stability in Sudan.

"We are nervous of what will happen next," said Nhial Deng, from the semi-autonomous south of Sudan, which signed a peace deal with Khartoum to end the civil war there four years ago.

"We are worried about how this will affect the peace in the south, and in all the country."

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/03/04 16:25:35 GMT

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