Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir asked Arab leaders meeting in Qatar on Monday to strongly reject an arrest warrant issued against him by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.
Al-Bashir landed in Qatar on Sunday and met with Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. On Monday, he expressed his gratitude to the Arab League Summit. “We appreciate your support for Sudan in many areas,” al-Bashir said. “This support will, God willing, lead to issuing clear and unequivocal decisions — rejecting the decision [the ICC arrest warrant].” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also attended the meeting but avoided any confrontation with al-Bashir. The U.N. leader focused instead on efforts to have humanitarian aid workers allowed back into Sudan. Sudan expelled 13 international aid agencies from the Darfur region after the ICC issued the arrest warrant. The March 4 arrest warrant is the first issued for a sitting head of state by the world’s only permanent war crimes tribunal, based at The Hague in the Netherlands. But the ICC has no arrest powers and depends on its 106 member states to take suspects into custody. Qatar, site of the summit, is not a member of the tribunal. Sudan refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the ICC, and has made no efforts to hand over two other officials indicted by the court. Al-Bashir has called the charges an attempt by Western powers to recolonize Sudan.
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The International Criminal Court accuses al-Bashir of complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity in his government’s campaign against rebels in Darfur, in western Sudan. The United Nations estimates that 300,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million have been forced to flee their homes because of the conflict. Qatar had been mediating talks between Sudanese officials and representatives of one of the rebel factions, who signed a confidence-building agreement in February. At the State Department, deputy spokesman Gordon Duguid said leaders at the summit should deal with the situation in Darfur. “We would hope that while [al-Bashir] is in Doha that the Arab League would focus on the immediate and urgent needs of the people on the ground in Sudan and address the humanitarian situation in Darfur and meet the priorities of the comprehensive peace agreement,” he said. “The discussions should be on how to stop the violence and support the people. “The presence of Bashir at this conference should be used as an opportunity to bring forth the international concern to what is happening in Darfur and southern Sudan.” In another development, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi walked out of the summit after a dispute over whether he would be allowed to talk. “I am an international leader,” Gadhafi said before leaving. “The dean of Arab rulers. The king of kings in Africa. The imam to Muslims. My international position does not allow me to be reduced. Thank you.” State Department spokesman Duguid declined to comment.