February 12, 2009 / 3:51 AM / 10 years ago

Sudan plays down reports of Bashir arrest decision

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan sought to play down reports International Criminal Court judges have decided to issue an arrest warrant for its president, saying it was pressing ahead with diplomatic efforts to postpone the move.

A man walks beneath posters supporting Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir against the International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant in the capital Khartoum February 12, 2009. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallh

United Nations diplomats and officials told Reuters late on Wednesday the global court’s judges had decided to indict Sudan’s president for war crimes in Darfur.

Sudan’s foreign ministry said it had not received any notification from the Hague-based court which has not so far publicly announced a decision or given details of what charges President Omar Hassan al-Bashir might face.

“We must wait for the announcement from the court,” said Ali al-Sadig, spokesman for Sudan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“The African Union and Arab League delegations are still working. China and Russia are also working with us. It is too early to talk about the results of this pressure .... We will react when the decision comes.”

China, the African Union and the Arab League have all warned an indictment of Bashir could destabilise the region, worsen the conflict in Darfur and threaten a troubled peace deal between north Sudan and the semi-autonomous south.

Their diplomats have been trying to build support for a one-year postponement of the court’s action, which is within the power of the United Nations’ Security Council.

“Our consistent stance has been that we hope the International Criminal Court’s actions are helpful for Sudan’s stability and the appropriate resolution of the Darfur problem,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a regular news briefing.

There was no sign of a reaction to the reports of an arrest warrant on the streets of Khartoum Thursday and the story did not appear in local media.

Last year, chief ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo asked the court’s judges to indict Bashir for orchestrating what he described as a campaign of genocide in Sudan’s western Darfur region that killed 35,000 people in 2003 and at least 100,000 more through starvation and disease.

Khartoum rejects the term genocide and says 10,000 people died in the conflict.

U.N. officials in New York said Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had not been notified by the ICC of its decision, although they were expecting news before the end of the month.

The U.N. has a mission in Sudan and a separate UNAMID peacekeeping force in Darfur, jointly run by the African Union.

UNAMID spokesman Noureddine Mezni said the force had also not been informed.

A woman walks past posters in support Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who faces an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC), in Khartoum February 12, 2009. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallh

“We have a specific, separate mandate to keep the peace in Darfur. We have nothing to do with the ICC,” he said.

Some analysts have warned Western embassies will be left in a diplomatic vacuum if an arrest warrant is issued, unsure how to handle relations with a president who is also a wanted man.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing)

Reporting by Andrew Heavens; Editing by Sophie Hares

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