* Mbeki-led AU panel to discuss justice with ICC
* Current Sudan-Chad relations slowing peace process
By Barry Malone
ADDIS ABABA, May 2 (Reuters) - An African Union (AU) panel plans to meet the International Criminal Court (ICC) despite AU opposition to a warrant of arrest for Sudan’s president, former South African President Thabo Mbeki said on Saturday.
"We are in contact with the prosecutor and have agreed that we would find an occasion as soon as possible for us to sit and meet with him face to face," Mbeki said in Ethiopia.
He said he could not yet say what the panel would recommend to the ICC, but that they would also discuss issues of "justice".
The ICC has issued an arrest warrant for President Omar el Bashir to face charges of alleged war crimes carried out during almost six years of fighting in Sudan’s violent west, but he has refused to deal with the court.
Mbeki is chairing an AU panel charged with helping to bring peace to Sudan’s troubled western region of Darfur by making recommendations to the AU’s Peace and Security Council.
The AU has said the warrant is likely to compromise peace efforts in Darfur, and the 53-member organisation wants the indictment deferred.
International experts say 200,000 people have died and more than 2.5 million have been driven from their homes in the remote western region since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government in 2003. Khartoum puts the death toll at 10,000.
Mbeki — who has been on a "listening tour" of Sudan and neighbouring countries — said improved relations between Sudan and Chad were necessary for peace.
"It’s critically important that relations between the Sudan and Chad governments should be normalised," he said. "If that doesn’t happen then it is going to be very difficult to find a solution to the Darfur problem," he added.
Sudan and Chad accuse each other of supporting rebels opposed to their governments.
The AU panel’s tour has so far visited Sudan, Chad, Egypt and Libya.
Other members of the delegation include the former presidents of Burundi and Nigeria, Pierre Buyoya and Abdusalami Abubakar. (Editing by Wangui Kanina and Richard Meares)