UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Sudan last week flew a man indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court to a peace meeting in the flashpoint Abyei region, U.N. officials said on Tuesday.
The mission, known as UNMIS, transported Ahmed Haroun, a Sudanese provincial governor, to Abyei last Friday for a meeting to try to reconcile feuding tribes, officials said.
At least 36 people have died in clashes between the Arab nomad Misseriya and the Dinka Ngok, linked to Sudan's non-Arab south. The violence coincided with a week-long referendum in the south on independence from Khartoum.
Oil-rich Abyei is close to the Sudan's north-south border and is the subject of a dispute over which side it will belong to if, as expected, southerners vote to secede.
The Hague-based ICC issued international arrest warrants in 2007 for Haroun, a former state minister for humanitarian affairs, and militia leader Ali Kushayb for helping to organize mass killings in Sudan's western Darfur region. Sudan is not party to the ICC and has refused to hand over either man.
Asked about the decision to help Haroun, who is currently governor of Southern Kordofan province which surrounds Abyei, attend the meeting, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said the Abyei clashes were threatening to turn into a wider war.
"And so, Governor Haroun was critical to bringing the Misseriya leaders in Southern Kordofan to a peace meeting in Abyei to stop further clashes and killings," he told reporters.
Abyei's chief administrator, Deng Arop Kuol, said on Sunday Haroun had promised to set up a committee to handle Misseriya-Dinka disputes in the future.
The ICC is not a U.N. body and the United Nations is not a signatory to it but has promised under an agreement with the court to cooperate with it.
An opinion issued by the U.N. office of legal affairs in 2006 said contacts between U.N. representatives and people indicted by international courts "should be limited to what is strictly required for carrying out U.N. mandated activities."
Nesirky said the assistance given to Haroun was in accordance with the mandate of UNMIS to provide "good offices" to the northern and southern parties in Sudan "to resolve their differences through dialogue and negotiations."
But Richard Dicker, an ICC expert at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said, "I have real concerns. Ahmed Haroun is a charged war criminal linked to the worst abuses in Darfur."
"The question I have really is was there no other means for Ahmed Haroun to make it to the meeting," Dicker told Reuters.
"I think the U.N.'s posture should be of keeping a distance from him. I think the U.N. should be held to a high standard with regard to their flying Haroun to a meeting. There needs to be a high threshold of necessity."
Additional reporting by Opheera McDoom in Khartoum; Editing by Todd Eastham