Monday, March 30, 2009

Sudan President Omar Hassan al-Bashir Welcomes Arab League Rejection of ICC Warrant As Unjust

Monday, March 30, 2009
22:12 Mecca time, 19:12 GMT

Arab leaders snub al-Bashir warrant

Al-Bashir welcomed the Arab League's rejection of the "unjust" arrest warrant

Arab leaders meeting in Doha, the Qatari capital, have rejected an international arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president accused of war crimes in Darfur.

In a final communique issued at the end of the first day of the 21st Arab League summit on Monday, the leaders expressed soldarity with al-Bashir, who is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan's western Darfur region.

"We emphasis our solidarity to the Sudan and our dismissal and rejection of the decision handed down by the International Criminal Court [ICC]," Amr Moussa, the Arab League secretary-general, read from the communique.

He said that that the decision to arrest al-Bashir was aimed "at undermining the unity and stability of Sudan".

Ibrahim al-Faqir, the Sudanese ambassador in Doha, told Al Jazeera: "We are very pleased at the Arab support to President al-Bashir and we are hopeful to have the solidarity with the president in the final statement.

'Fight to the end'

"We are also hopeful that no Arab president will be let down. We are going to fight until the end."

The United Nations says at least 300,000 people have died, many from disease and hunger, since fighting broke out in Darfur between black Africans and Arab militia alleged to have links to the Sudanese government in 2003.

Khartoum has dismissed the UN's account of deaths in Darfur, saying about 10,000 people have died.

Al-Bashir told the delegates that he appreciated their "dismissal of the unjust decision" of the ICC.

The communique also set conditions for the future direction of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

"They say that the Arab Peace Initiative is still there but it won't be there for long," Al Jazeera's Amr el-Kahky, reporting from the summit, said.

Prosecution sought

He said they set two conditions for the future of peace talks; that Israel halts settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank and agrees to a time limit to fulfill its obligations towards peace.

"We call for an end to Israeli aggression, ending the siege, reopening the crossings and emphasise that we hold Israel accountable and legally liable for all the crimes perpetrated," Moussa said.

The summit statement said Arab leaders had agreed to establish a legal committee to seek to prosecute Israeli leaders over Israel's 22-day offensive in Gaza which ended in January, leaving more than 1,300 Palestinians dead.

Earlier Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, said that, while the Arab Peace Initiative was still on the table, the new incoming Israeli government under Benyamin Netanyahu was "not a peace partner".

"Israel sees its future in removing the Palestinians to an alternative homeland," he said. "Israeli society is becoming more extremist and aggressive."

The Arab nations also called for the international community to help prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in the region and work towards a "weapons-free zone".

Moussa said that this would obligate Israel, which is widely believed to have a nuclear weapons programme but has never acknowledged it, to sign the non-proliferation treaty and open its facilities to inspection.

Al Jazeera's el-Kahky said the comments on the nuclear issue also addressed some Arab nations' fears over Iran's nuclear ambitions, which Tehran says are entirely peaceful but many Western nations believe are aimed at producing atomic weapons.

Moving forward

Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst, said that the atmosphere between the various Arab nations, who have been deeply divided over relations with Iran and the response to Israel's 22-day assault on the Gaza Strip, seemed to have improved during the summit.

"What we heard today was more or less a very mild common denominator on some of the issues ... such as supporting Sudan," he said.

"It is a mild statement, but there is a sense that things have moved forward a bit."

Al-Bashir attended the summit in defiance of the warrant issued by ICC, but Qatar is not obliged to arrest al-Bashir as it is not a signatory to the ICC.

He criticised the UN security council, the body that mandated the ICC prosecutor to investigate the situation in Darfur, on Monday saying that its credibility was at stake with "some countries having hegemony".

He called it an "undemocratic institution that ... applies double standards, targeted the weak and gave a blind eye to the criminals".

'Extremely concerned'

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, had criticised Sudan's decision to expel 13 international aid agencies from the Darfur region after the ICC arrest warrant was issued.

"I remain extremely concerned by the government's decision to expel key international non-governmental organisations, and suspend the work of three national NGOs [non-governmental organisations] that provide life-sustaining services for more than one million people," he said.

Jamie Balfour-Paul, the Middle East policy adviser for Oxfam, rejected Sudanese allegations that the UK-based charity was spying for the ICC.

"We don't have an agreement with the ICC, we are a humanitarian organisation and we are impartial," he said. "We don't have anything to do with the ICC and we don't have a position on its decision."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Sudan's leader, UN chief face off at Arab summit

By BRIAN MURPHY Associated Press Writer
Associated Press
March 30, 2009, 1:49PM

Qatar — The U.N. chief confronted Sudan's embattled president Monday with demands to allow the return of expelled aid groups to Darfur — and was met with a defiant response from the Sudanese leader who dismissed war crimes charges against him and thanked Arab allies for rallying to his side.

The starkly different views — coming in nearly back-to-back speeches at an Arab summit — showed the increasing willingness by Omar al-Bashir to challenge the West and flaunt his wide support among Arabs in opposing the arrest order by the International Criminal Court.

Al-Bashir's attendance among other Arab League leaders was his boldest public snub of the ICC's decision, bringing him to the same conference hall as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for the summit's opening speeches. Ban's spokeswoman, Michele Montas, said the two men were in the same room, but did not speak or interact.

"Relief efforts should not become politicized," Ban said. "People in need must be helped irrespective of political differences," he added in an appeal to resume relief efforts to Darfur.

There was no risk of arrest at the summit for al-Bashir, who had full backing of the 22-nation Arab League. The group later issued a formal declaration rejecting the ICC charges.

But it gave al-Bashir a forum to swipe at the court and the U.N. Security Council, which asked the ICC to open the probe into war crimes in Darfur.

In his speech, al-Bashir called the Council an "undemocratic institution that ... applies double standards, targeting the weak and turning a blind eye to the (real) criminals."

He also offered no sign that he would permit the return of international aid groups to Darfur, where Sudan's Arab-led government has battled ethnic African rebels for six years. The conflict, according to U.N. estimates, has killed up to 300,000 people and driven 2.7 million from their homes.

Later, al-Bashir expressed "gratitude and thanks" for the public rejection of the ICC charges.

The ICC was established at a U.N. conference in Rome in 1998. The court is independent from the world body and relies on nations backing the ICC charter to carry out its decisions.

Although Sudan dominated the summit, the opening addresses also reflected underlying tensions about the Arab approach to Israel with Benjamin Netanyahu's right-leaning government coming to power.

Syria's president, Bashar Assad, said he still favors pursuing a peace pact with Israel, but insisted that Arabs have a "moral duty" to support militants to force Israel to negotiate. The appeal is apparently part of Assad's attempts to become a leading voice in any new peace initiative with Israel.

Assad also urged the summit to "take a daring, clear and direct stance that rejects and doesn't compromise" on the ICC charges against al-Bashir.

Only Jordan and two other tiny Arab League members, the Comoros and Djibouti, are parties to the ICC charter, but they can take no action on Qatari soil.

Before the opening of the summit, a coalition of Middle East human rights groups urged leaders not to protect Sudanese officials accused of atrocities in Darfur — a direct jab at support for al-Bashir.

"There should be no immunity for those who have committed crimes in Darfur," said the declaration by the Arab Coalition for Darfur, signed by 15 groups from across the region.

The Doha Center for Media Freedom, a watchdog group, called al-Bashir's presence at the summit a "double standard" by Arab leaders, who have widely backed appeals for an ICC probe into possible war crimes during

Israel's offensive in Gaza in January.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stayed away from the summit because Qatar has been at odds with Cairo over rival approaches to Darfur and the Palestinian power struggle between Iranian-backed Hamas and Western-backed leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, assured delegates that his nation will retain its Arab identity — an apparent reference to worries among Iraq's Arab neighbors about the growing influence of Persian Iran.

The summit also includes a separate outreach to South American nations, including efforts to expand the rapidly growing trade between the two regions.
Associated Press Writers John Heilprin at the United Nations and Salah Nasrawi in Doha contributed to this report.

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