China says heed fears about Bashir genocide charges

BEIJING Fri Jul 18, 2008 9:24pm BST

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir holds Sudan's new election law book in Khartoum in this file photo from July 14, 2008. World powers should heed the worries of African and Arab states in responding to genocide charges against Sudan's president, China's envoy on Darfur said, warning that the court steps could imperil peace efforts.REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdalla

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir holds Sudan's new election law book in Khartoum in this file photo from July 14, 2008. World powers should heed the worries of African and Arab states in responding to genocide charges against Sudan's president, China's envoy on Darfur said, warning that the court steps could imperil peace efforts.

Credit: Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdalla

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BEIJING (Reuters) - World powers should heed the worries of African and Arab states in responding to genocide charges against Sudan's president, China's envoy on Darfur said, warning that the court steps could imperil peace efforts.

Liu Guijin, Beijing's envoy for the ravaged region of western Sudan, said on Friday the International Criminal Court prosecutor's application for the arrest of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir could threaten deployment of peacekeepers and hopes for fresh negotiations in Darfur.

Judicial moves should not upstage other efforts, he said.

"The United Nations is using these different measures, and it should ensure its own priorities, and the use of one measure should not undermine the other measures," Liu told a small group of reporters. "Don't send wrong or chaotic signals."

The veteran Africa diplomat's comments were China's first lengthy public response to the announcement Monday by ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo that he wants Bashir tried for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

They were also the clearest signal yet that China might back Security Council action aimed at suspending the ICC case.

But China's Ambassador to the United Nations Guangya Wang told reporters in New York that merely suspending an ICC arrest warrant -- something the council has the power to do for a renewable period of 12 months -- would not be sufficient.

Rather, he said the five permanent Security Council members -- China, Russia, the United States, France and Britain -- should meet with Moreno-Ocampo, "warning him about the negative consequences" of pursuing an arrest warrant for Bashir.

"They (the court) have to consider the possible consequences of any action," Wang said, echoing earlier comments by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The renewed attention on Darfur comes as Beijing readies for the Olympic Games in August, when its arms and oil ties with Sudan will come under a blaze of global attention.

Moreno-Ocampo accused Bashir of a campaign of genocide that killed 35,000 people outright, at least another 100,000 through "slow death" and forced 2.5 million to flee their homes.

China and other governments have said indicting Bashir could unleash a rash of complications in Darfur, a tribally mixed region where government-backed militia have fought rebels against Khartoum's rule for five years.

Human rights groups critical of Bashir have praised the ICC, saying this could force Sudan to seek peace in Darfur.

Sudan has asked Russia, China and members of the Arab League and the African Union to seek U.N. Security Council intervention to halt the court action.

Diplomats at the United Nations say the Arab League and the AU's Peace and Security Council are likely to urge the Security Council take the blocking action.

Liu stressed the major powers should listen to African and Arab states.

"We want to see more of the further plans of the AU and Arab League, and then use the channel of the U.N. Security Council or other appropriate channels to ensure the development of the situation does not affect resolving the Darfur issue," he said.

Beijing has sought to show itself as a helpful force in Darfur, coaxing Bashir to accept a joint U.N.-AU mission that took over peacekeeping in Darfur in January.

But China also sells weapons to Khartoum and is a major investor in Sudan's oil, and critics say self-interest has led Beijing to shield the government from pressure over Darfur.

Western critics and media have "distorted" views of his country's normal ties with Khartoum, including controlled sales of weapons, Liu said, adding that the Beijing Olympics should not become a target for protests over Darfur.

"The Olympic Games are not an appropriate setting for resolving all the world's problems, including Darfur," Liu said. He would not say whether Bashir would attend the Games.

China this week sent 172 military engineers to Darfur, bringing all of its 315 promised peacekeepers into place.

The U.N.-AU mission force has struggled to establish control in Darfur, and since last week eight of its troops have died in attacks. With 9,500 people in Sudan, it is far below its planned full strength of 26,000.

(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations. Editing by Ken Wills and Chris Wilson)

(chris.buckley@reuters.com; +86 10 66271261)

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