April 17, 2009 / 7:25 PM / 10 years ago

INTERVIEW-Kerry says ICC case no bar on Darfur peace drive

* Kerry says ICC case against Bashir has complicated matters

* Says urgent need for peace deal

* Kerry meets displaced Darfuris



By Alastair Sharp

EL FASHER, Sudan, April 17 (Reuters) - U.S. Senator John Kerry said on Friday the International Criminal Court’s war crimes charges against Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir should not stop efforts to resolve the Darfur conflict.

"Of course, there is no question it has complicated matters. We’ll just have to see where we go along the road," Kerry, who heads the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, told Reuters in an interview during a visit to Darfur.

But he said: "The humanitarian issue and the issue of governments working together transcends whatever external factors there may be."

Kerry, leading a congressional delegation to Sudan, said there was an urgent need for a peace deal in the western Darfur region, where he met displaced people and senior members of the joint United Nations and African Union peacekeeping force.

"I could feel the anger in there, the frustration and the anger as the years go by, and I think there is a sense of urgency," the former U.S. presidential candidate said after talks at Al Salam refugee camp.

Kerry made his comments just days after Bashir struck a more conciliatory tone towards Washington by welcoming U.S. President Barack Obama’s overtures to the Islamic world. Sudan has viewed the United States in the past as an enemy.

International experts estimate some 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes during almost six years of ethnic and politically driven fighting in Sudan’s west. Khartoum puts the death toll at around 10,000.

Last month, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Bashir on charges of masterminding war crimes in Darfur. Sudan expelled 13 foreign aid groups it accused of helping build the charges against Bashir.



AID RESUMPTION

Kerry, who says a new dialogue has been brought about by Obama’s special Sudan envoy Scott Gration, suggested diplomacy could eventually result in a lifting of sanctions against Sudan and its removal from a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

"Absolutely. That is entirely on the table. I can’t tell you when, that’s a decision President Obama makes," said Kerry.

He told a group of about 100 people Washington had reached agreement with Khartoum on a resumption of aid activities, but that the expelled aid groups would not necessarily return.

"We have agreement that in the next weeks we will be back to 100 percent capacity," said Kerry.

"Not every group will be guaranteed to be the same group."

Residents of some camps in Darfur have refused replacement aid administered by local and government-run groups.

Al Salam resident Adam Ahmed Yacoub told Kerry he had been in the camp since 2004 when his town was attacked.

One woman said conditions in the camp had worsened since the international aid groups were expelled, especially for women and children. "The woman is the one who was raped and they are still being raped," she said.

Kerry was told at a briefing by the U.N. and African Union peacekeeping mission that Darfur was now a low intensity conflict with outbursts of major violence but that the border between Sudan and Chad was a major concern.

Chad and Sudan have long traded accusations of backing rebel movements in the border regions.

Tribal dancers and drummers welcomed Kerry at the residence of North Darfur’s governor Osman Yusuf Kibir, who told him the United States had the ability to solve the problem of Darfur.

"It is high time for the Obama administration to seize the opportunity to realise peace in Sudan," said Kibir.

Kerry told Reuters this was a message he had received often during his three-day visit.

"Everybody here has emphasised that the United States is the country with the leverage and the ability to make a difference, so we have a responsibility to do that," he said. "It’s going to take a lot of lifting and a lot of leverage." (Editing by Ralph Gowling)

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