UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - African Union and Arab League diplomats urged the U.N. Security Council on Thursday to suspend an expected war crimes indictment of the Sudanese president over atrocities in Darfur, diplomats said.
U.N. diplomats and officials said on Wednesday the International Criminal Court had decided to issue an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is accused by the court’s chief prosecutor of overseeing genocide in Darfur.
The court, based in The Hague, said on Thursday it had not reached a final decision but U.N. officials said the Sudanese government was already aware that Bashir would be formally indicted later this month.
“They (Arab and African diplomats) will meet with council members this afternoon and they will convey the decision of the African Union at the recent summit in Addis Ababa that they need to invoke Article 16,” Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem told reporters.
Article 16 of the ICC statute allows the Security Council to suspend ICC proceedings for up to one year at a time.
Abdalhaleem said African and Arab diplomats had already met some individual council members on Thursday, including U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice. However, a U.S. official said the meeting with Rice was not about the ICC.
Council diplomats said the meeting would be private and informal. One diplomat said it might be pushed back to Friday and was unlikely to result in any council action since the ICC has not issued any warrant.
Britain’s Africa minister Mark Malloch Brown said earlier this week that it was “completely unlikely that anything is going to happen which could lead to an Article 16 deferral.”
“NO ONE GIVES A DAMN”
Bashir is the most senior figure pursued by the court since it was set up in 2002. If the warrant is issued as expected, he will be the first acting head of state indicted.
Sudan rejects the accusations made by chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo last July and says it will never hand over Bashir or two other Sudanese men already indicted by the court.
“For us this so-called indictment doesn’t exist,” said Abdalhaleem. “No one will give it a damn in the country. If it has any merit, it has united the whole Sudanese people around our president.”
China, the African Union and Arab League have all suggested that an indictment of Bashir could destabilize the region, worsen the Darfur conflict and threaten a troubled peace deal between north Sudan and the semi-autonomous south.
Ocampo accuses Bashir of orchestrating a campaign of genocide in Sudan’s western Darfur region, starting in 2003. Ocampo has said this killed 35,000 people outright and at least 100,000 more through starvation and disease.
Khartoum rejects the term genocide and says 10,000 people died in the conflict.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Heavens in Khartoum, Skye Wheeler in Juba, South Sudan and Catherine Hornby in Amsterdam)
Editing by Alan Elsner
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