March 26, 2009 / 12:24 PM / 10 years ago

Sudan's Bashir goes to Libya, defying ICC

(Adds detail after meeting with Gaddafi)

TRIPOLI, March 26 (Reuters) - Sudan President Omar Hassan al-Bashir defied an international arrest warrant by travelling to Libya on Thursday for talks with leader Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s government said.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued the warrant against Bashir this month, charging him with war crimes in Darfur in western Sudan.

Experts say at least 200,000 people have been killed and more than 2.7 million driven from their homes in almost six years of ethnic and political fighting in Darfur. Khartoum says 10,000 people have died.

Gaddafi, who is also the current president of the African Union, said last month that "foreign forces" including Israel were stoking the Darfur conflict and urged the ICC to stop proceedings against Bashir.

Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali Al-Mahmoudi and top government and military officials welcomed Bashir at the airport in Sirte, Gaddafi’s home town 500 km (300 miles) east of the capital Tripoli, Libyan state news agency JANA said.

Bashir, flanked by a delegation including Sudan’s foreign and industry ministers, met Gaddafi over lunch and thanked the veteran Libyan leader for his staunch support, it said.

"President al-Bashir thanked the leader of the revolution ... for his solid pro-Sudan positions in regional and international forums, a position that reflects the depth of the relationship between the two brother countries," JANA said.

The two leaders discussed ways to address the humanitarian situation in Darfur and Sudan’s relations with Chad, while Gaddafi "stressed his rejection of the decisions of the so-called "criminal court"", it said.

They agreed to focus on a "social solution" for Darfur and work towards a free and fair referendum for its population, JANA added.

Gaddafi says Africa can solve its own problems without outside meddling and has made a number of attempts to broker peace between Darfur rebels and the Khartoum government.

A Sudanese presidential palace source and a foreign ministry official had earlier said Bashir, who risks arrest any time he travels abroad, was travelling to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

The trip is his third abroad since the ICC issued the arrest warrant on March 4. He visited neighbours Egypt and Eritrea this week following invitations from those countries for talks on the ICC move.

Bashir later arrived back in Khartoum after his Libya visit.

The Sudanese government said shortly after the ICC decision that Bashir would defy the warrant by travelling further afield to an Arab summit in Qatar next week.

But Sudanese officials have released statements raising questions over the wisdom of the trip, prompting speculation Sudan may send another representative.

Qatar’s prime minister has said the Gulf state was coming under pressure not to receive Bashir, though he did not say from whom. (Reporting by Andrew Heavens; Writing by Cynthia Johnston and Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Charles Dick)

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