(Adds U.S. and Sudanese envoys, diplomats)
By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, July 28 (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council was split on Monday over an effort by Libya and South Africa to have the council prevent the International Criminal Court from indicting Sudan’s president for genocide.
The council discussed the Libyan and South African proposals after the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, asked the court’s judges to issue an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s over war crimes in Darfur.
Moreno-Ocampo accused the Sudanese leader of orchestrating a campaign of genocide that has killed 35,000 people outright, at least another 100,000 through "slow death" and forced 2.5 million from their homes.
South Africa and Libya, backed by Russia and China, want to include a paragraph halting any ICC moves in a resolution to extend the mandate of a joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID), which expires on Thursday.
But the United States, France and other Western countries made it clear that they wanted to keep two issues separate. As a result, The council failed to reach any agreement.
"We have a division in the council at this point," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters. He said there was no point in linking the UNAMID mandate to any possible future indictments by the ICC.
"This shouldn’t be held hostage," he said. "Everyone is in agreement that it should be extended. What people are in disagreement on is if the Article 16 issue should be dealt with now. We have to go forward... with what everyone agrees to."
Under Article 16 of the ICC statute, the 15-nation Security Council can pass a resolution suspending the court’s investigations or prosecutions for a year at a time.
The court, based in The Hague, is not expected to make a decision on Moreno-Ocampo’s recommendation for several months.
The Arab League and the African Union have expressed concern that the ICC prosecutor’s moves against Bashir could harm efforts to end the five-year-old conflict in Darfur and have called for invoking Article 16 to suspend the process.
"AFFRONT TO AFRICA"
Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem criticized Khalilzad for his remarks. "It’s not Sudan that is demanding this Article 16, it is Africa," he said. "It is an an affront to Africa. It is an insult to the whole continent."
Referring to Moreno-Ocampo, Abdalhaleem said Sudan was being unfairly singled out by the ICC prosecutor: "He is a screwdriver in the workshop of double standards."
The Security Council is scheduled to vote on Wednesday on a British-drafted resolution extending the UNAMID mandate for one year but council diplomats said it could be delayed until Thursday -- the final day of the current mandate.
Diplomats said there were several proposals under discussion. A new paragraph could say the council should halt any ICC investigation of Bashir, or that an indictment of Bashir would undermine the peace process. It could also simply take note of the AU and Arab League’s concerns.
Russia and China have said they worry that indicting Bashir would undermine peace efforts for Darfur and they would support suspending the process. But neither has been willing to take the lead in pushing the council to stop the ICC.
Council diplomats say China’s decision to play a passive role, despite its strong ties to Sudan’s government, stems from its reluctance to give prominence to its close relationship to Khartoum before the Beijing Olympics, which open Aug. 8.
Film director Steven Spielberg embarrassed Beijing earlier this year by withdrawing as an artistic adviser to the Olympics because of China’s policy on the Darfur conflict. China is one of Sudan’s top oil customers and sells arms to Khartoum.
Last year the ICC indicted two Sudanese men for war crimes in Darfur, a remote and desolate region in western Sudan, but Khartoum has ignored the arrest warrants. Recently Sudan said it was ready to conduct its own trials for crimes in Darfur and would allow international experts to inspect its legal system. (Additional reporting by Megan Davies; Editing by Chris Wilson)