July 13, 2008 / 1:15 AM / 11 years ago

Sudan seeks Arab League talks about Criminal Court

* Sudan calls for emergency Arab League meeting on ICC

* Sudan mulls Russian, Chinese help to block any arrest

* Rebels welcome any arrest warrant for Sudanese president

* U.N.’s Ban Ki-Moon speaks by phone with Sudan president

By Cynthia Johnston

CAIRO, July 12 (Reuters) - Sudan formally asked the Arab League on Saturday to hold an emergency meeting of foreign ministers after reports the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) prosecutor may seek the arrest of Sudan’s president.

A senior European diplomat said on Friday the ICC’s prosecutor would likely seek President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s arrest in a new Darfur war crimes case he will open on Monday.

Sudan has said any such move could undermine the Darfur peace process. Two senior government officials told Reuters Sudan would likely seek Chinese, Russian and African support at the United Nations to help block any warrant for Bashir.

The issue could also pit the demands of the U.N.-backed ICC against U.N. interests in deploying a peace force in Darfur — home to the world’s largest humanitarian operation — and aid officials fear a potential backlash.

Sudan’s main rebel groups, who have also been accused of rights abuses, said on Saturday any ICC arrest warrant for Bashir would be a triumph for justice, and pledged to hand over their own commanders if sought by the court.

An Arab League spokesman said Sudan had submitted a written request to convene a meeting of Arab foreign ministers, and that League Secretary General Amr Moussa was working on the issue.

"Amr Moussa is in Paris and is consulting with Arab foreign ministers for an extraordinary meeting of the council of foreign ministers," Arab League spokesman Abdel-Alim al-Abyad said. The officials are in France for a summit of European Union and Mediterranean leaders.

Egypt’s state news agency MENA said Sudan wanted the meeting "to look into the situation between Sudan and the International Criminal Court." The Cairo-based Arab League said it was still too early to say when or where such a meeting would take place.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is in Paris for the Mediterranean summit, spoke by telephone on Saturday with Bashir, U.N. officials said. But they could not confirm a report by Sudan TV that Ban had expressed "huge concern" over the ICC move and expressed readiness to "contain" it.

Ban has repeatedly said the ICC is an independent body. Sudan TV, monitored by the BBC, said Bashir told Ban that Sudan would "seriously deal with the move by the ICC prosecutor." It did not elaborate.


Sudanese officials said they were seeking broader international support to stymie any arrest warrant.

"Contacts are already established with China and Russia ... and they have shown their support ... But it’s informal so far," said one senior government source on condition on anonymity.

One option before the U.N. Security Council is to use Article 16 of the ICC’s statute to suspend a prosecution for a year, but the European envoy who spoke to Reuters on Friday was sceptical the council would do that.

"China is reflecting on Article 16, but I think the position of most Western countries will be to support the court," he said.

ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is due to submit to judges "evidence on crimes committed in the whole of Darfur over the last five years" and seek to charge an individual or individuals, a prosecution statement said on Thursday.

It gave no details. The Washington Post quoted U.N. officials and diplomats as saying the prosecutor would charge Bashir with genocide and crimes against humanity on Monday.

Moreno-Ocampo said last month that Sudan’s "entire state apparatus" was involved in an organised campaign to attack civilians in Darfur and said he would present judges with evidence implicating senior Sudanese officials in July.

"This is a new world age — it will send a message that anyone who commits crimes and genocide will be judged," said Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur, founder of the Darfur rebel Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM).

Nur and two other rebel leaders told Reuters that if Moreno-Ocampo indicted any of their own commanders, they would comply and send them to the ICC in The Hague for trial.

Moreno-Ocampo has said he was investigating a 2007 attack on an African Union base in Haskanita in Darfur which killed 12 peacekeepers and was blamed on rebels.

ICC judges issued arrest warrants for two Sudanese suspects last year — government minister Ahmed Haroun and militia commander Ali Kushayb. Khartoum has refused to hand them over.

International experts say at least 200,000 people have died in Darfur and 2.5 million have been displaced since a rebellion erupted in 2003. Khartoum says 10,000 people have been killed. (Additional reporting by Opheera McDoom in Khartoum and Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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