KHARTOUM (Reuters) - China, the biggest investor in Sudan, said on Wednesday a war crimes indictment against Sudan’s president would have a “disastrous” impact on the Darfur conflict and called for the case to be postponed.
Liu Guijin, Beijing’s envoy for Sudan’s troubled Darfur region, said he had held recent talks with officials in Britain, France, the United States and Russia to try to raise support for a deferral of the case against President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
In July, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) asked judges to issue an arrest warrant for Bashir, accusing him of orchestrating genocide in Darfur where international experts say fighting has killed 200,000 people.
A decision on the warrant is expected in the next few weeks.
“We wish to work together with our partners ... to try and find some way to postpone the indictment so the international community could have more time to address the problem,” Liu told reporters in Khartoum where he met foreign ministry officials.
Liu said it was still possible for a member of the United Nations Security Council to table a motion to delay the indictment, the ICC’s first against a sitting president.
China, one of the Security Council’s permanent members along with Britain, France, the United States and Russia, had no plans to table the motion but would support any move to hold off proceedings, Liu said.
“(An Article 16) still remains as one of the options,” Liu said, referring to a section of the ICC statute allowing the Security Council to delay investigations for a year or more.
He said it would be more appropriate if one of the Council’s three current African members — Burkina Faso, Libya and Uganda — invoked the article.
Rights groups say China, involved in several oil exploration projects in Sudan, has failed to do enough to stop bloodshed in Darfur and has violated a U.N. arms embargo on the region.
The Arab League and the African Union have warned an indictment of President Bashir could derail peace efforts in Darfur, and threaten the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ending 21 years of north-south civil war.
“If finally the ICC issued the arrest warrant against the president ... the president will become a kind of criminal suspect,” Liu said.
“How can the international community consider the criminal suspect as a credible partner to implement the CPA? How could you rely on a criminal suspect to be a responsible partner for the Darfur political process?”
Some 2.5 million people have fled their homes in Darfur since rebels took up arms against the Arab government in 2003, accusing it of neglect. Khartoum puts the death toll at 10,000.
Sudan has stepped up diplomatic efforts to try to persuade permanent members of the Security Council to suspend any ICC warrant. But Sudanese officials say Britain, France and the United States have threatened to veto any postponement.
Several government insiders have privately acknowledged that a postponement was now unlikely and that the ICC will probably issue its warrant.
Editing by Katie Nguyen