Sudan says seeking U.S. visa for wanted President Bashir

KHARTOUM Tue Sep 17, 2013 11:13am EDT

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir addresses a joint news conference with his South Sudan's counterpart Salva Kiir in Juba April 12, 2013. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir addresses a joint news conference with his South Sudan's counterpart Salva Kiir in Juba April 12, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Andreea Campeanu

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KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan confirmed on Tuesday it had applied for a U.S. visa for its president to let him attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York, despite international arrest warrants out against him over charges of masterminding war crimes in Darfur.

Washington earlier said it had received the application, calling the move "deplorable, cynical and hugely inappropriate" due to Omar Hassan al-Bashir's indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

A trip to the United States could be risky for Bashir, who has limited his travel mostly to African neighbors and Arab allies since the court asked member countries to detain him if he entered their territories.

The United States is not a member of the Hague-based ICC so would not be legally bound to hand the president over.

But Washington has led calls for Bashir to face international justice over the bloodshed in the now decade-old conflict in the western region of Darfur.

Sudan dismisses the charges, says reports of mass killings in Darfur have been exaggerated, and refuses to recognize the court which it says is part of a Western plot against it.

"The foreign ministry took the necessary measure to obtain a visa for the president of the republic and his delegation, the ministry said in a statement.

It said Bashir also planned to meet several African leaders of the sideline of the U.N. session in New York, where debates start next week.

The ministry also dismissed criticism of the application from U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power.

"The U.S. government is not qualified morally, politically or legally to give any lessons or recommendations in respecting the international law or human rights," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The U.S. was obliged to grant a visa under the 1947 U.N. Headquarters Agreement establishing the world body's base in New York, the ministry said.

As the United Nations' "host country," the United States has a policy of issuing visas for members of delegations regardless of disputes with individual countries.

The African Union voted not to cooperate with the ICC indictments against Bashir made in 2009 and 2010. Mainly non-Arab tribes took up arms in Darfur in 2003 against the Arab-dominated government, complaining of neglect and discrimination.

The conflict has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced about 2 million, according to human rights groups and U.N. officials. Sudan says the numbers are overblown.

Sudan's visa request comes at a time of rising African frustration with the ICC due to a perception that prosecutors disproportionately target African leaders, a charge the ICC denies.

The U.S. state Department has not commented on whether a visa would be granted.

The United States has refused entry to some government officials and professionals from Iran in the past but the Islamic Republic's last president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has addressed the U.N. General Assembly.

(Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Writing by Tom Perry and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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