- The Washington Times - Monday, March 9, 2009


Sudan’s president threatened to kick out more aid groups and expel diplomats and peacekeepers Sunday during his first trip to Darfur after an international court issued an arrest warrant against him on charges of war crimes there.

Sudan already has expelled 13 of the largest aid groups operating in Darfur as part of its defiant response to the International Criminal Court’s decision last week to indict the president, Lt. Gen. Omar Bashir. Sudan has accused the groups of cooperating with the Netherlands-based court.

Gen. Bashir made the statement as the Sudanese army announced that it was moving toward putting its army on full alert by mobilizing three-quarters of its troops, according to the Sudan Media Center, a news agency with close links to the government.

The army renewed its allegiance to Gen. Bashir and said it was ready to confront any threat, according the report, quoting a statement from the army’s chief of staff, Gen. Mohammed Nasreddin.

Gen. Bashir was greeted by thousands of cheering supporters, including some on the backs of horses and camels, in the northern Darfur capital of El Fasher. Brandishing a sword, he told the throngs that others could be ordered to leave if they got involved with the court case. The rally was attended by Arab diplomats, including Egyptian, Jordanian and Lebanese. Western envoys did not accompany the president on the trip.

“Those who respect themselves, we will respect them. Don’t interfere in something that doesn’t concern you,” Gen. Bashir said. “Don’t do anything that would harm the country’s security and stability.

“Whoever deviates, we will not let them stay, whether a voluntary organization, an envoy, a diplomatic mission or a security force.”

During the ceremony, a Chinese company signed a contract to build a road in the area. The move reflected Sudan’s continuing close ties with China despite the crisis.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported that Sudan released Islamist opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi early Monday, two months after he was detained for calling on Gen. Bashir to surrender to the ICC, his family said.

Mr. al-Turabi, 76, was freed from prison in Port Sudan and flown to his home in the capital, Khartoum, in the early hours without explanation, his son Siddig told Reuters.

“We don’t know what is going to happen in the morning, but there is no guard outside the house in Khartoum. He has been released. … We are very happy,” the son said.

In January, Mr. al-Turabi became the only political leader inside Sudan to call on Gen. Bashir to surrender to the ICC to face charges of orchestrating war crimes in the western Darfur region.

The court accuses Gen. Bashir of leading a counterinsurgency against Darfur rebels that involved rapes, killings and other atrocities against civilians. Up to 300,000 people have died, and 2.7 million people have been driven from their homes in the conflict since 2003, according to the United Nations.

The rally in El Fasher took place far away from the teeming refugee camps where tens of thousands of people live after fleeing their homes because of attacks by the government-backed Arab militias.

Gen. Bashir rejects the charges and refuses to deal with the court. Arab and African nations are pressing the U.N. Security Council to defer any prosecution for at least a year in hopes of defusing the crisis.

“Tell them all, the ICC prosecutor, the members of the court and everyone who supports this court that they are under my shoe,” he said. In the Muslim world, stepping on somebody or striking them with shoes is considered an insult.

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