The Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir arrived in Egypt today, an airport official said, flaunting his freedom in defiance of an international arrest warrant for alleged war crimes in Darfur. Mr Bashir was to hold talks with the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on his second visit abroad since March 4, when the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.
But there was little chance of Mr Bashir being arrested in Sudan's northern neighbour, with both Egypt and the Arab League rejecting the warrant and saying it will threaten peace talks in Sudan. Egypt, like all Arab states except for Jordan, is not a party to the Rome treaty that created the ICC, the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal. The ICC does not have a police force and calls on signatory states to implement warrants. However, all United Nations member states are urged to co-operate with The Hague-based court.
Even the United States, where the previous administration described the Darfur conflict as genocidal, said on Tuesday it was under "no legal obligation" to arrest Mr Bashir as it was not a signatory to the Rome statute. Mr Bashir's visit to the key US ally Egypt comes just two days after he made a short trip to the diplomatically isolated Eritrea on Monday. Speculation has also risen about whether Mr Bashir will attend a March 29-30 Arab summit in Doha, with Sudan's highest religious authority, the Committee of Muslim Scholars, issuing a fatwa, or edict, urging him not to go.
The Egypt visit comes amid a worsening humanitarian situation in Darfur after Khartoum ordered the expulsion of 13 international aid agencies in the wake of the arrest warrant. The United Nations warned that it would appeal to international donors for extra funds following the expulsion of 3,142 aid agency staff. The UN humanitarian affairs coordinator Ameerah Haq warned in Khartoum that the situation in Darfur would deteriorate further over the next weeks.
"By the beginning of May, as the hunger gap approaches, and unless the World Food Programme has found partners able to take on the mammoth distribution task, these people will not receive their rations," she said. "Up to 650,000 currently do not have access to full health care." Aid groups which remain in the country, are also increasingly concerned about security in Darfur, with a Sudanese working for a Canadian group shot dead at his home on Monday.
The United Nations say 300,000 people have died, many from disease and hunger, and 2.7 million been made homeless by the Darfur conflict, which erupted in February 2003. Khartoum puts the death toll at 10,000. Mr Bashir, the first sitting president to be issued with a warrant by the ICC, faces five counts of crimes against humanity and two for war crimes, accused of orchestrating a campaign of murder, torture, rape and pillage in Darfur.
Many African and Arab states, along with China, have condemned the ICC move and called for the warrant to be suspended. The Arab League and African Union have vowed to lobby the UN Security Council to suspend the court's proceedings. *AFP