July 25, 2010 / 6:37 PM / 10 years ago

African nations divided over Bashir genocide charge

KAMPALA (Reuters) - African countries are divided about whether they should arrest Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on suspicion of genocide, diplomats at a summit told Reuters on Sunday.

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir (R) is welcomed by First Vice President Salva Kiir Mayardit (L) as he steps off the plane from Chad, in Khartoum July 23, 2010. REUTERS/Mohamed Nurdldin Abdallh

Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes in Darfur last year. This month the court added genocide to the charges, accusing him of orchestrating murders, rapes, and torture in the troubled western region.

A draft of a resolution to be passed at the African Union (AU) meeting in Ugandan capital Kampala, seen by Reuters on Saturday, contained two contentious clauses that have triggered horse-trading behind the scenes at the event.

But both paragraphs were removed after arguments that went on until 3 a.m. on Sunday, AU and Western diplomats said.

The first clause advised African countries not to arrest Bashir if he visited their nations — even if they had signed up to the ICC as 30 African countries have.

“(The AU) reiterates its decision that AU member states shall not cooperate with the ICC in the arrest and surrender of President Bashir,” the paragraph said.

The second deleted clause attacked prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

“BASHIR DIVIDING US”

“Those two parts caused a big fight between the delegates,” an African diplomat, who was at the meeting, told Reuters. “Bashir is dividing us.”

The latest draft resolution also “rejects for the moment” a request by the ICC to open an “Africa liaison office” in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, diplomats said.

Some African leaders say the court is obsessed with prosecuting Africans and ignores war criminals on other continents.

AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping has said the decision to prosecute Bashir has undermined peace efforts in Sudan.

AU summits have been marked by fights over issues such as Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s “United States of Africa” plan and the ICC.

The rows often pit northern and western states — rallied by Gaddafi — against a group of countries seen by analysts as close Western allies and usually helmed by South Africa.

“South Africa, Ghana and Botswana led the argument that the clauses should be removed,” a Western diplomat, who had seen the altered draft, told Reuters.

“Libya, Eritrea, Egypt and some other countries who have not signed up to the ICC fought strongly against that but they lost out in the end.”

Bashir went to Chad this week in defiance of his arrest warrant on his first visit to a full ICC member since he was charged. The court said Chad should arrest Bashir, but Chad said after Bashir’s arrival that it had no intention to do that.

The defiant leader returned to his capital Khartoum untouched. The final AU resolution on the ICC is expected to be agreed by heads of state on Tuesday.

Additional reporting by Jeremy Clarke

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