February 20, 2009 / 3:44 PM / 11 years ago

Sudan seeks Bashir indictment deferred for a year

CAPE TOWN, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Sudan wants moves to indict President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on war crimes postponed for a year to give the government time to negotiate peace in Darfur, its foreign minister said on Friday.

Judges from the International Criminal Court are expected to rule on whether to issue an arrest warrant against Bashir over allegations he masterminded genocide in Darfur.

Foreign minister Deng Alor Kuol, in South Africa for talks, told reporters in Cape Town that a postponement would give the Sudanese government time to engage other rebel movements.

"We are saying we are asking for one year for postponement because this will give us time to work for peace in Darfur which we have already started with one movement, in Darfur we have many movements, more than ten about fifteen," he said.

Khartoum and leading Darfur rebel faction The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) agreed on Tuesday to meet for peace talks and signed a deal with concessions from both sides.

Sudan started negotiations last week with JEM, almost six years into a conflict that international experts say has killed 200,000 people and uprooted 2.7 million.

But other influential rebel factions have refused to join talks while the cooperation of neighbouring Chad, which hosts refugees fleeing Darfur, is seen as key to any lasting peace.

Kuol said the agreement reached in Doha under mediation from Qatar, was only a beginning.

"When you are fighting a bitter war you need to rebuild confidence between you and the other side. So it’s not an agreement that addresses major issues but an agreement that addresses confidence". He said if an arrest warrant was issued for Bashir, the Sudanese president will not be "arrested just like that".

"He will not be arrested because the Sudanese don’t want him arrested because he is inside Sudan and as long as he is inside Sudan and there is no decision by anybody to hand him over, he will (remain) inside the Sudan". (Reporting by Marius Bosch; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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