- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA (AP) - Sudan’s president made his sixth foreign trip since his indictment on charges of war crimes in Darfur, traveling Tuesday to Ethiopia despite the international warrant for his arrest.

Omar al-Bashir, who appeared relaxed and smiling next to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, attempted to put a positive spin on the charges he may face if arrested and tried by the International Criminal Court.

He also said he had had “constructive dialogue” with U.S. envoys sent to Sudan, though he expected a harder line from the U.S. but be did not specify what his expectations were.

“For us the ICC indictment was positive,” al-Bashir said. “We have found a very strong stance from regional organizations such as the Arab League and the African Union.”

The Arab League has rejected the indictment. The African Union, which is based in Ethiopia, has said al-Bashir’s arrest would dangerously imperil the fragile peace process in Sudan and has asked the U.N. to defer the warrant for one year.

Al-Bashir also repeated his criticisms of the 13 local and international aid groups he expelled after the arrest warrant was issued. Sudan’s government accused the groups of spying for the ICC.

“To address the gap, we have expressed our readiness to receive new partners,” he said.

Meles, who did not say much during the brief news conference, said Ethiopia would continue to treat Sudan as an ally and welcome its leader to Ethiopia.

“Relations have not been affected,” he said. “Sudan is a close neighbor.”

An Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesman said al-Bashir would not face arrest. He was in Ethiopia for a one-day visit to discuss routine issues.

Since the ICC issued the arrest warrant on March 4, al-Bashir has visited Eritrea, Egypt and Libya, attended an Arab League summit in Qatar and performed a pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest city, Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. In March, the Arab League formally rejected the charges against al-Bashir.

Many African countries have said they will not arrest al-Bashir. While al-Bashir appears to have safe haven in Africa and Arab countries, other nations have supported the arrest warrant.

The U.S., Britain and France have strongly opposed any deferral of the warrant for his arrest. President Barack Obama in March denounced the “genocide” in Darfur. But the U.S. has not recognized the ICC’s jurisdiction, citing fears that Americans would be unfairly prosecuted for political reasons.

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo has said that al-Bashir should be arrested once he leaves Sudanese airspace and that prosecutors are monitoring al-Bashir’s movements. However, the Hague-based court has no police force to execute the warrant.

Al-Bashir’s Arab-led government has been battling ethnic African rebels in the region since 2003, and about 300,000 people have died in fighting and 2.7 million displaced in the conflict, according to U.N. figures. Sudan says the numbers are exaggerated.

Sudan’s government expelled more than a dozen local and international aid agencies after the arrest warrant.


Associated Press Writer Anita Powell contributed to this report from Nairobi, Kenya.

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