Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bashir defies court

Sudan's President Bashir defies warrant, expels aid groups

Aid agencies warn of a humanitarian disaster as Omar al-Bashir calls the arrest warrant a "conspiracy."

By Jonathan Adams
Christian Science Monitor
Terrorism and Security Update
March 5, 2009

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir struck a defiant note Thursday in his first public remarks since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for him Wednesday. His government ordered 13 aid agencies to leave the country.

That reaction ratchets up the confrontation between Sudan and the ICC, and has already stirred fears of a humanitarian disaster.

Mr. Bashir faces five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes for atrocities in Darfur (see a map of the region here.) He's the first sitting president to be so charged. (See a StudioBendib political cartoon on Bashir's indictment here.)

CNN and other media reported that Bashir danced and smiled Thursday in Khartoum, in an appearance before large crowds that gathered for a second day of protests against the arrest warrant.

The crowd was filled with posters and banners featuring al-Bashir's face or the flag of Sudan. The one banner written in English read, "We are all with al-Bashir."

Al-Bashir gave a fervent speech to the crowd, denouncing the United States, its Western allies and Israel. At one point, the crowd repeated in English, "Down, down, USA!"

Music before and after the speech got everyone moving, including the president, who smiled broadly and raised his walking stick in the air. A camouflaged helicopter swooped over the crowd.

Angry crowds gathered in north Darfur and Khartoum to protest the arrest warrant just hours after it was issued, according to The Christian Science Monitor.

The Associated Press reports that Bashir said the warrant was part of a conspiracy meant to destabilize Sudan and derail Darfur peace talks.

... al-Bashir told a Cabinet meeting that the court, the United Nations and international organizations operating in Sudan were "tools of the new colonialism" meant to bring Sudan and its resources under control.

"This is an attempt to get at Sudan," he said.... "We in Sudan have always been a target of the U.N. and these organizations because we have said, 'No,' " al-Bashir said. "We said the resources of Sudan should go to the people of Sudan."

Reuters reports that Sudan has ordered 13 humanitarian aid agencies expelled from the country since the ICC announced the arrest warrant, and that Sudanese authorities have already begun removing computers and other assets from the groups' offices.

The Associated Press reported that the aid agencies on Thursday began preparations for leaving the country. The groups include Oxfam, CARE, and Save the Children.

Aid workers warned that the expulsion order could spark a humanitarian crisis for up to 2 million people in Darfur who are directly served by the 10 agencies, receiving food, shelter and medical supplies.

At least 2.7 million people in the large, arid region of western Sudan have been driven from their homes in the war between Darfur rebels and the government since 2003 – and many more depend on international aid to survive.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that the warrant could spark unrest in Sudan.

The indictment comes at a time of great political instability in Sudan.

Darfur rebels are expanding their operations into neighboring states as the country prepares for crucial national elections this year. And relations between the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum and the semiautonomous southern portion of Sudan are coming under increasing strain.

Meanwhile, Agence France-Presse reports that the African Union (AU) had gone into an emergency meeting over the arrest warrant for Bashir, which the union says "will hurt an faltering peace process in the troubled country."

The bloc's Peace and Security Council members began the closed door meeting at its Addis Ababa headquarters a day after the International Criminal Court issued the warrants.

The meeting was aimed at "mobilizing support for the AU's position and to ensure the hard-won but fragile gains made thus far in the quest for lasting peace ... in Sudan are not reversed," a statement said.

Regional and global reaction to the warrant against Bashir continued Thursday. The United States backed the court's decision in comments from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Thursday, according to Reuters.

"President Bashir would have a chance to have his day in court if he believes that the indictment is wrongly charged. He can certainly contest it," said Clinton....

The top U.S. diplomat said the ICC had issued its indictment based on a very long investigation and the case was now in the judicial system "properly so"....

"Governments and individuals who either conduct or condone atrocities of any kind, as we have seen year after year in Sudan, have to be held accountable," she said.

China called on the ICC Thursday to halt its case against the accused war criminal "for the time being," according to Al Jazeera.

"China expresses its regret and worry over the arrest warrant for the Sudan president issued by the International Criminal Court," Qin Gang, the foreign ministry spokesman, said in a statement on the ministry's website on Thursday....

China buys the majority of Sudan's oil and is one of the African nation's most important trading partners.

Agence France-Presse reported that South Africa expressed "regret" over the decision, and said the warrant would have a negative impact on peace talks. But one prominent South African disagreed.

South African Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu earlier this week called on the continent's leaders to support the arrest bid, saying it was "shameful" that so many had rallied around the Sudanese leader.

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