TRIPOLI, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, the current African Union president, on Tuesday accused "foreign forces" including Israel of being behind the Darfur conflict.
Judges from the International Criminal Court are due to announce on March 4 whether they will issue a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir over allegations that he masterminded genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region. U.N. diplomats have told Reuters the warrant will be issued.
But Gaddafi, addressing a meeting on ways to expand cooperation between the United Nations and African Union, urged the Court to stop its proceedings against Bashir:
"Why do we have to hold President Bashir or the Sudanese government responsible when the Darfur problem was caused by outside parties, and Tel Aviv (Israel), for example, is behind the Darfur crisis?"
Gaddafi suggested, without presenting any evidence, that the Israeli military was among those stoking the conflict:
"It is not a secret. We have found evidence proving clearly that foreign forces are behind the Darfur problem and are fanning its fire," Gaddafi said, according to the Libyan state news agency Jana.
"We discovered that some of the main leaders of the Darfur rebels have opened offices in Tel Aviv and hold meetings with the military there to add fuel to the conflict fire."
Mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against Sudan’s government in 2003, accusing it of neglecting the Darfur region. Khartoum mobilised mostly Arab militias to crush the rebellion.
International experts say the fighting has killed 200,000 people and uprooted 2.7 million. Sudan’s government denies any genocide, saying that 10,000 have been killed and that Western media exaggerate the conflict.
Gaddafi himself has made a number of attempts to broker peace talks between Darfur rebels and the Sudanese government. (Writing by Lamine Ghanmi; Editing by Kevin Liffey)