Malawi cancels AU summit hosting over Bashir invite

Bashir speaks at an event attended by oil industry workers in Khartoum on May 10/AFP

BLANTYRE, Jun 8 – Malawi said Friday it will not host the African Union summit in July because the bloc insisted on inviting Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, wanted on international war crimes charges.

“After considering the interests of Malawians, I want to inform Malawians that the cabinet met today and decided it was not interested to accept the conditions by the African Union, therefore Malawi is not hosting the summit,” Vice President Khumbo Kachali told journalists in a brief speech broadcast on state radio.

The decision had already been communicated to the AU, he said.

Kachali said the country had received a communication from the AU commission that as a host country Malawi was required to invite all presidents including Bashir.

“The commission said if Malawi was not willing to host al-Bashir, the venue should be shifted to another country,” he said, adding that the summit would be hosted by Ethiopia.

Sudan on Thursday said it had urged the pan-African bloc to shift the summit to its Addis Ababa headquarters after the host nation’s refusal to welcome Bashir.

Sudan’s president is wanted by The Hague-based International Criminal Court on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in the country’s troubled Darfur region.

Malawi’s new president, Joyce Banda, said in May that she wanted Bashir to stay away from the summit scheduled in Lilongwe on July 9-16, to avoid straining ties with key donors for her impoverished country.

Banda has embarked on a major drive to smooth ties with the international community which were soured under her predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika and has taken a number of bold steps to steer the country into donor-friendly waters.

Foreign aid once provided roughly 40 percent of Malawi’s development budget but funding was slashed amid an economic crisis and governance concerns under Mutharika’s rule, resulting in chronic foreign exchange and fuel shortages.

Under current ICC rules, its members, of which Malawi is one, have a duty to arrest Bashir, who has visited several countries, including some court signatories, without any action being taken.

Earlier this week, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told the UN Security Council that failure to detain him and other Sudanese officials accused of war crimes and genocide was “a direct challenge to the council’s authority.”

He said the council should consider calling on all 193 UN member states and regional organisations to carry out the arrest warrants.

The Sudanese leader is the first sitting president indicted by the court and his visits spark diplomatic headaches for African nations, with some signatories vowing his arrest on their soil while others flout the court’s rules.

Malawi was reported to the council in December for refusing to arrest Bashir after Mutharika gave him a red carpet welcome at a regional trade summit.

In 2009, the AU said it would not respect the warrant and urged the United Nations to suspend the arrest order.

Last month, the foreign minister of Benin, which currently chairs the African Union, said the group had no reason to bar Bashir from its July summit.

The idea of hosting the meeting was mooted by Mutharika before he died, but the country faced logistical challenges, including a shortage of the 4,000 beds needed.

Kachali said that the “state was also not ready to host the summit as confirmed by the evaluation team from the AU”.

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