Sudan’s Bashir heads to Arab summit despite ICC warrant

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Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes, is heading to the Arab League summit in Baghdad, an official radio station reported on Wednesday.

“Bashir left Khartoum for Baghdad, heading the country’s delegation in the Arab League summit,” state-run Radio Omdurman said.

The Hague-based ICC issued an arrest warrant for Bashir in 2009 for alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur. A later warrant added genocide to the charges.

On Sunday, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s office announced that Bashir would attend the meeting, but until Wednesday’s radio report there had been no official comment about the trip within Sudan.

The Iraqi foreign ministry has said on its website that “the protection of President al-Bashir is guaranteed one hundred percent,” adding that the same applied to all summit participants.

Iraq is not a signatory to the ICC’s founding Rome Statute, according to a copy of the treaty posted on the U.N.’s website.

Thursday’s meeting of leaders from the 22-member Arab League is the first in the Iraqi capital since now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Bashir, who has since made several visits abroad, especially to other African states, leaves as diplomats from Sudan and South Sudan work to avert war after border clashes this week sparked international fears of a wider conflict.

Sudanese warplanes on Tuesday launched fresh air raids on oil-rich areas of South Sudan, a Southern official said, threatening a tentative rapprochement despite international calls for calm.

Earlier, Sudan suspended an April 3 summit between President Omar al-Bashir and his southern counterpart Salva Kiir in Juba following border clashes on Monday, although Southern officials later said the invitation still stood.

“After a day of attacks by air and ground troops on Monday, this morning we heard the Antonov (aircraft) return, and dropped two bombs,” said Gideon Gatpan, information minister for South Sudan’s Unity state.

He believed the air strikes had targeted oilfields but there was no apparent damage.

Sudanese foreign ministry spokesman al-Obeid Meruh said the bombing was Khartoum’s response to an attack launched by the South with heavy weapons on an oilfield “inside Sudanese territory.”

Kiir, however, said northern bombers and ground troops had struck first on Monday, moving into Unity State before Juba's troops fought back and took the Heglig oil hub.

The Sudanese army said calm had returned on Tuesday and northern troops were “fully in control of the Heglig area.”

A statement from the 15-member United Nations Security Council called on both sides to end the violence, to exercise “maximum restraint” and do nothing to undermine security in the region.