Kenyan leaders at Bashir inauguration

May 27, 2010 12:00 am

, KHARTOUM, May 27 – Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and former President Daniel arap Moi were among African dignitaries present as veteran Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was sworn in for a new five-year term on Thursday.

Mr Bashir vowed to engage with the West despite an International Criminal Court warrant hanging over him.

Mr Bashir, who last month won a multi-party election 21 years after seizing power in a military coup, also pledged to fight for Sudanese unity as Africa\’s biggest country heads to a referendum in January next year on independence for the south.

Dressed in traditional white robes and turban, President Bashir addressed Parliament in a ceremony attended by six African heads of state or government, and low-level representation from Western countries.

"I will personally strive to build up a dialogue, an objective dialogue with Western states aimed at clearing the atmosphere," he said.

In March 2009, Mr Bashir became the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the ICC. He stands accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

The seven-year-old conflict in the vast western region pitting the army and Arab militias against ethnic minority rebels sparked US charges of genocide and Western anger that he refused to cooperate with the International Criminal Court or surrender wanted officials.

His alleged crimes against humanity include murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture, and rape, and two counts of war crimes — attacks against civilians and pillaging.

On Wednesday, an aide to President Bashir said Khartoum had ruled out further negotiations with Darfur\’s most heavily armed rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), dashing hopes of peace in the arid desert region.

His new term of office is seen as crucial for Sudan, where southern former rebels are seeking to break away.

Last month\’s presidential election was a key part of a 2005 peace agreement that put an end to a devastating two-decade civil war with the rebel Sudan People\’s Liberation Movement.

"I stress that we are committed… to holding the referendum in the south on its scheduled date, it is a commitment we will not renege on. We made a vow and we will adhere to it," he said.

He promised that referendum would take place in a "free atmosphere" and would be monitored by local and international observers.

"We will accept, in good faith, the choice of the south, whatever the choice may be," he said, but stressed he would work for the country\’s unity.

"Our position is a belief in unity. We call for it, we will plan for it and we will work for it," Mr Bashir said.

He also vowed to work "to achieve security and stability in Darfur," where the seven-year-old conflict has cost the lives of 300,000 people, according to the United Nations; 10,000, according to Khartoum.

President Bashir was declared winner in the April 11-15 elections with 67 percent of the vote but the polls were marred by accusations of fraud and logistical problems.

His re-election was virtually guaranteed after the withdrawal of his two main challengers ahead of polling day.

Observers from the European Union and the Carter Centre monitoring polling said after the vote ended that the election had failed to reach international standards.

In a speech celebrating his disputed election victory last month, Mr Bashir vowed to campaign for unity against the ambitions of southerners.

And on Monday, newly elected parliament speaker Ibrahim Ahmed al-Taher focused on the referendum in his inaugural speech.

"The assembly\’s first task is to call upon southerners to preserve the unity of Sudan because that is what serves their interests," said Taher, a member of Bashir\’s National Congress Party, which controls parliament.


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