UNITED NATIONS, June 6 (Reuters) - The International Criminal Court planned to arrest a Sudanese official indicted for crimes in Darfur when he went on a Muslim pilgrimage last year, but he heard about the scheme and evaded capture, an ICC spokeswoman said on Friday.
The idea was to divert a plane carrying Ahmad Harun, Sudan’s minister for humanitarian affairs, as it was heading for Saudi Arabia, where the annual Muslim haj pilgrimage is held in Mecca, spokeswoman Florence Olara said.
The pilgrimage, which Muslims must perform at least once if they are able, took place last year from Dec. 17-21.
"Using cooperation from some states, the plane would have been diverted," Olara said. "There was a country ready to receive the plane once it was diverted, but he was tipped off and got off the plane. So he never went to Mecca."
Olara declined to name the countries involved and gave no further details of how the operation would have worked. But she said Saudi Arabia was informed of the plan.
The Hague-based ICC issued arrest warrants for Harun and Sudanese militia commander Ali Kushayb in April 2007 on 51 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes. They include inciting murder, rape and torture, and the forced displacement of villagers in Darfur.
Sudan, which is not a party to the ICC statute, has refused to hand over the two men. Saudi Arabia also has not signed the statute and international legal experts said it would not have been legally obliged to arrest Harun if he had arrived there.
Experts estimate that at least 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes in Darfur, western Sudan, since a rebellion erupted there five years ago. Khartoum says only 10,000 have died.
The chief ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday he would seek more indictments next month against Sudanese officials, accusing Khartoum’s "entire state apparatus" of involvement in crimes in Darfur. (Reporting by Patrick Worsnip)