August 4, 2008 / 6:26 PM / 11 years ago

AU says Bashir warrant pouring "oil on fire"

(Adds AU Peace and Security Commissioner)

By Opheera McDoom

KHARTOUM, Aug 4 (Reuters) - The African Union said on Monday a move by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to indict Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide and war crimes in Darfur was pouring "oil on the fire".

Africa’s top diplomat Jean Ping met Bashir and other officials in Khartoum and urged the U.N. Security Council to suspend the ICC investigation into the president to allow peace efforts to continue.

"While we are trying to extinguish the fire here with our troops, we don’t understand that they chose that moment to put more oil on the fire," Ping told reporters after meeting Bashir.

Five years of war have brought humanitarian disaster to the western Sudan region, and campaigners accuse the world of failing to provide helicopters and other vital support for a struggling peacekeeping mission there.

Some 9,500 mainly African troops are already deployed in a joint U.N.-AU peacekeeping effort (UNAMID), but U.N. bureaucracy and Sudanese delays have prevented the force from reaching its full strength of 26,000 troops and police.

AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said the force could reach 80 percent of its total by the end of 2009 if the international community showed goodwill towards the mission.

The ICC chief prosecutor last month asked the court for an arrest warrant for Bashir for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, saying his state apparatus was directly responsible for killing 35,000 people and indirectly for the deaths of at least 100,000 more in Sudan’s remote west.

Regional powers worry that any indictment would cause problems for UNAMID and stall any peace process. But rights groups call the ICC move a blow against impunity.

Ping said of the ICC: "You are dealing with people who died; we are also dealing with people who are still alive."

"You should take into account not only the problem of justice but also the problem of peace — together would be very useful."

The court’s charter allows the Security Council to suspend any ICC investigation for 12 months at a time.

Lamamra said the Security Council should freeze the investigation before any warrant for Bashir was issued. ICC judges could deliberate for months before deciding on a warrant.

Ping said the U.N. should take the AU request very seriously.

"We think that this decision should be examined clearly because we are here in Africa and the troops who are here are Africans, those who are dying are Africans," he said.

Mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003 accusing central government of neglect. Khartoum mobilised mostly Arab militia to quell the revolt but they now stand accused of a widespread campaign of terror, rape and murder. (Editing by Sami Aboudi)

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