A defiant President Omar al Bashir, on his first visit to Darfur since an international warrant for his arrest, today warned peacekeepers and aid groups to obey Sudanese law or face expulsion. "I have a message to all the diplomatic missions in Sudan, the NGOs and the peacekeepers," he said. "They have to respect the rule of the country. If anyone goes further than the rule of the country, we will kick them out directly."
Mr al Bashir's trip to the North Darfur state capital of El-Fasher is seen as a calculated show of defiance in the face of mounting western criticism of his government's expulsion of 13 aid agencies. Khartoum's move followed the International Criminal Court's announcement of the warrant on Wednesday for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in the western region. Mr al Bashir poured scorn on western criticism.
"They told us if we leave the NGOs to continue their work, we will freeze the ICC decision, but we reject that," he said, speaking from a high stage to a packed and cheering crowd of several thousand. He also rejected demands to hand over a minister charged by the ICC with orchestrating war crimes in Darfur. "They asked us to suspend Ahmed Haroun as a minister or make him resign, but I reject that also," Mr al Bashir said.
And he scoffed at efforts by The Hague-based court to bring him to trial, saying: "The ICC, the judges and the prosecutor are all under my shoes." As he travelled earlier in an open vehicle to the centre of town cheering supporters waving flags and pictures of Mr al Bashir chanted "Down, down Ocampo," referring to ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. Wearing a safari suit and waving a stick, Mr al Bashir grinned back in delight.
The United Nations says the aid agency expulsions will leave 1.1 million people without food, 1.5 million without health care and more than a million without drinking water. * AFP