Bashir on first foreign trip

March 23, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI Mar 23 – Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir arrived in Eritrea on Monday on his first foreign trip since the issue of an international arrest warrant for alleged war crimes, Eritrea’s information minister said.

"It is a one-day visit, it’s a very normal visit from one president to another. He is responding to an invitation by President Issaias Afeworki," Ali Abdu told AFP by phone from Asmara.

The Eritrean president had invited Bashir on March 11 to express solidarity with the Sudanese president, seven days after the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued its warrant accusing Bashir of crimes against humanity and war crimes in the western Sudanese region of Darfur.

"The drama being orchestrated by the so-called ICC amply demonstrates the anti-people stance and defamatory conspiracy on the part of external forces," the Eritrean government had said in its invitation.

"Eritrea sees the decision by the ICC as irresponsible and as an insult to the intelligence of African countries," Abdu said on Monday.

"They are meeting today and will discuss bilateral and regional issues," he added without elaborating.

Like Sudan, the government in Asmara has frosty ties with Western states, notably the United States.

Many African and Arab states along with key ally China have condemned the ICC move and called for the warrant to be suspended.

Bashir faces five counts of crimes against humanity and two of war crimes. He is the first sitting president to be issued with a warrant by the ICC.

Bashir’s visit to Eritrea had not been announced in the Sudanese media, even those close to the government were unaware of his travel plans.

"I know nothing about this," a high-ranking foreign ministry official told AFP, when asked about the president’s visit to Asmara.

On Sunday, Sudanese media said the country’s highest religious authority, the Committee of Muslim Scholars, has issued a fatwa urging Bashir not to travel to the March 29-30 Arab summit in Doha.

"It is inadmissible for the president of the republic to take part in the Arab League summit in Qatar under current conditions while the enemies of God and of the nation are creeping around," the text said.

"Because you are the symbol and the guardian of the nation… we think that the conditions are not right (to attend the summit) and that this task can be carried out by persons other than yourself," the fatwa said.

The ICC does not have a police force and therefore calls on signatory states to implement warrants.

Eritrea has not ratified the Rome Statute which set up the court, although as a member of the United Nations it is urged to cooperate with the court.

Besides the possibility of his arrest in Qatar, some officials in Sudan fear that Bashir’s presidential jet could be intercepted by other states once out of Sudanese airspace.

According to some Sudanese commentators, appeals for Bashir not to travel offer the president a face-saving way out of the ICC bind.


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