- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

DAMASCUS, SYRIA (AP) - The Arab League rejected an international arrest warrant for Sudan’s president on charges of war crimes in Darfur, and its leader said Qatar has done the same, clearing the way for the beleaguered Sudanese leader to attend an Arab Summit there later this month.

“The court asked Qatar and the Arab League at the same time, but our legal position on the matter does not allow what the International Criminal Court is requesting,” Arab League head Amr Moussa said Monday during a visit to Syria.

Only three Arab League states recognize the Netherlands-based court _ Jordan, Djibouti and Comoros. It was unclear whether they have endorsed Moussa’s statement.

Under the rules of the ICC, member states must arrest those indicted if they enter their territory, which could restrict Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir’s movements to just friendly countries.

Moussa did not specify when the court made the requests but said he was concerned about the effect that arresting Sudan’s president would have on the country’s stability.

“The Arab League is cooperating with the African Union to take clear measures on this issue,” he said. “We ask, and we are making contacts, to stop these measures (by the ICC) … because stability and security in Sudan is in danger.”

The court issued its arrest warrant on March 4, accusing al-Bashir of orchestrating atrocities against civilians in Darfur, where his Arab-led government has been battling ethnic African rebels since 2003. Up to 300,000 people have been killed, and 2.7 million have been driven from their homes.

Al-Bashir has denied the charges and has said he will not cooperate with court. He has struck a defiant tone, and his trip to Qatar at the end of the month is meant to show he cannot be touched.

He has expelled 13 large foreign aid agencies mainly operating in Darfur, accusing them of spying for the court. The U.N. has said those expulsions will leave millions at risk of a humanitarian crisis. On Monday, al-Bashir said he wants all international aid groups out of the country within a year.

Moussa said the Arab League was working with the African Union in trying to halt the court’s efforts. Many Arab and African countries have lobbied the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution deferring any prosecution of the president for at least a year, hoping to defuse the crisis.

But the U.S., which has a veto on the council, does not support the move, and there have been some signs of frustration among Arab and African countries with al-Bashir’s tough line.

When the court’s chief prosecutor first presented his charges against al-Bashir last year, the Arab League said the move undermined Sudan’s sovereignty and only the country’s courts should have jurisdiction.

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