KHARTOUM Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court on genocide charges, said on Sunday he planned to attend this week's U.N. General Assembly and had already booked a hotel in New York.
Washington has led calls for Bashir to face international justice over bloodshed in the now decade-old conflict in Sudan's Darfur region, and a senior State Department official said last week that Bashir would "not receive a warm welcome" if he travelled to New York.
At a news conference, Bashir did not say whether the United States had granted him a visa yet, but did say he had made preparations to fly to New York via Morocco.
"We booked the flight route via Morocco ... we booked a hotel," he said, adding that it was his right to attend the U.N. assembly.
Bashir said he was not worried that U.S. authorities would arrest him, as demanded by human rights groups, because Washington is not a member of the ICC.
"Nobody in the U.S. can question me or hold me," he said.
The ICC issued arrest warrants for Bashir in 2009 and 2010 on charges of orchestrating war crimes and genocide, requiring member countries to detain him if he entered their territories.
Since then, he has limited his travel mostly to African neighbours and Arab allies.
The United States is not a member of the Hague-based ICC, so would not be legally bound to hand the president over, but it has transferred ICC suspects to the court before.
When Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda turned himself in to the U.S. Embassy in the Rwandan capital of Kigali in March, he was put on a plane to The Hague within days.
Mainly non-Arab tribes took up arms in Darfur in 2003 against Bashir's Arab-dominated government, complaining of neglect and discrimination. The conflict has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced about 2 million, according to human rights groups and U.N. officials.
Sudan dismisses the ICC charges, says reports of mass killings in Darfur have been exaggerated, and refuses to recognise the court, which it says is part of a Western plot.
African hostility to the ICC has been growing due to a perception that prosecutors disproportionately target African leaders - a charge the ICC denies.
(Reporting by Ulf Laessing and Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Kevin Liffey and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Eric Beech)