Sudan insisted on Sunday that President Omar al-Bashir’s visit to Johannesburg for a summit was proceeding normally and he would return after its main meeting, despite a local court order banning him from leaving.
A South African court on Sunday issued a temporary ban on Bashir leaving the country after the International Criminal Court called for him to be arrested. He is wanted over alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in the Darfur conflict.
“It is difficult to give details of President Bashir’s timetable, but he will return when the main session is over. This could be today or tomorrow. I will not go into the details,” Sudan’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Kamal Ismail said at a press conference, AFP reported.
“Until now, things are normal and there is no risk to his excellency the president,” Ismail said.
A South African court statement said it was "compelling respondents to prevent President Omar Al-Bashir from the leaving the country until an order is made in this court".
A hearing in Pretoria High Court is set to take place later Sunday.
The ruling came after the Southern African Litigation Centre, a legal rights' group, launched an urgent court application to force the authorities to arrest Bashir.
Bashir, who is wanted over alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Darfur conflict, mostly travels to countries that have not joined the ICC, but South Africa is a signatory of the court's statutes.
A South African government official at the African Union summit confirmed media reports that Bashir was at the event, but he declined to give further details.
The ICC said in a statement from its headquarters in The Hague that it "calls on South Africa... to spare no effort in ensuring the execution of the arrest warrants" against Bashir.
The African Union summit is chaired by Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, who has urged African leaders to pull out of the ICC treaty, but human rights groups expressed outrage that Bashir could openly defy arrest.
"As a signatory of the ICC, South Africa has an obligation to arrest him," Johannesburg-based rights lawyer Gabriel Shumba told AFP.
"Failure to do so puts them in the same bracket as other African regimes who have no respect for human rights. It's actually a test for South Africa."
"Allowing President al-Bashir into South Africa without arresting him would be a major stain on South Africa's reputation for promoting justice for grave crimes," said Elise Keppler of Human Rights Watch.
"South Africa's legal obligations as an ICC member mean cooperating in al-Bashir's arrest, not in his travel plans," she added.
Since his indictment in 2009, Bashir has mostly travelled to countries that have not joined the ICC.
Darfur erupted into conflict in 2003 when insurgents mounted a campaign against Bashir's government, complaining their region was politically and economically marginalised.
More than 300,000 people have been killed in the conflict and fighting has forced some 2.5 million people to flee their homes, the United Nations says.
Khartoum, however, disputes the figures, estimating the death toll at no more than 10,000.