KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, in a show of defiance, made his first visit to Darfur on Wednesday since the International Criminal Court prosecutor accused him of genocide and war crimes and sought his arrest.
Dancing to traditional music and chanting Islamic slogans, Bashir addressed thousands of Darfuris in the regional capital el-Fasher, his promises of development and peace drawing cheers from onlookers.
“We all know that injustices happened (here),” he said, in a speech broadcast live on state television. “But from day one we have been working to provide stability for all the people of Darfur.
“We want to send this message to the world: we are the people of peace, we want peace ... we are the only ones who can achieve peace in Darfur.”
He invited Sudan’s political parties, tribal leadership and all Darfur’s rebel groups to join in what he called his new initiative for peace. Bashir will visit all three Darfur states in a three-day tour.
Promising more schools, universities, water projects and roads, Bashir said Darfur would also soon be connected to the national electricity grid, ending constant problems with power blackouts.
Mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in the remote western region in early 2003, accusing the government of neglect. To quell the revolt, Khartoum mobilised mostly Arab militias who are accused of atrocities including widespread rape, murder and looting.
International experts estimate some 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have had to flee their homes during the Darfur conflict, sparking the world’s largest humanitarian operation.
Bashir said the prosecutor’s request for an ICC arrest warrant for him over Darfur was a foreign conspiracy: “They are trying to confuse us ... They want to send us right back to square one.
“But Ocampo’s words will not stop us from our work,” he added, referring to ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.
Bashir did not visit slum-like camps in which millions of Darfuris driven from their homes reside around the major towns.
“We want Bashir to know we reject him visiting any of the camps for internally displaced people,” a spokesman for Darfuris in the camps Abu Sherati told Reuters.
DIPLOMACY, NOT VIOLENCE
Bashir has reacted to the ICC move not with a violent backlash as the United Nations feared he might, but by forming a united front with opposition parties, seeking regional support and insisting he is ready for Darfur peace talks.
He has pledged to continue implementing a north-south peace deal, and signed a landmark election law hours after the ICC announcement on July 14.
Aid agencies have worried about longer-term insecurity in Darfur. Late on Tuesday the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force (UNAMID) in Darfur said Sudanese military had detained and beaten a U.N. security officer who was now recovering in hospital in el-Fasher, the third attack on the force in two weeks.
“Although this could be said to be an isolated incident, UNAMID condemns in the strongest terms such attacks on its staff members,” the statement said.
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, who is also the number two in the national government, urged the ICC on Tuesday to delay any warrant for Bashir.
“We should have time to consult the rest of Africa and the world,” he said on a trip to Uganda. “The Sudanese government should be allowed to implement the accord signed with the South Sudan government and to negotiate with the fighting forces in Darfur.”
A diplomatic campaign has seen Sudanese officials visiting a dozen countries in the past week to drum up support for the tabling of a U.N. Security Council resolution to suspend any ICC warrant for Bashir for a renewable period of 12 months.
While Sudan has secured Arab and African support, Western nations have been cautious in reacting to the ICC move.
The Arab League said on Tuesday that Sudan had agreed to revive special courts for Darfur to try those suspected of war crimes with Arab and African observers.
But, to deflect the ICC warrants already issued for junior minister Ahmed Haroun and militia leader Ali Kushayb, Sudan would have to try them for the same war crimes as those listed by the Hague-based court, in trials that would satisfy ICC judges. Sudan has so far refused to try the two men.
Editing by Ralph Boulton
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.