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Defiant Bashir now in Libya

TRIPOLI Mar 26 – Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir – who faces an arrest warrant for alleged war crimes in Darfur – arrived in Libya on Thursday for talks with leader Muammar Gaddafi on his third trip abroad this week.

Bashir landed in Sirte, Gaddafi’s Mediterranean hometown 600 kilometres east of the capital and would meet with the leader, Libyan state news agency Jana reported.

Accompanied by his foreign and industry ministers, Bashir was met by Libyan Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmoudi, Jana said.

Earlier, Bashir’s office had said the president would be travelling to Ethiopia.

Gaddafi has criticised the warrant, issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on March 4. He told UN chief Ban Ki-moon it constituted a "grave precedent against the independence of less powerful states, their sovereignty and their political choices."

Gaddafi, the current African Union chief, said the ICC was "selective" and that the court, based in The Hague, was "employing a policy of double standards in targeting African and third-world states."

On Monday, defying the warrant, Bashir paid a visit to Eritrea and talks with Issaias Afeworki.

That was followed on Wednesday by a trip to Egypt and a meeting with President Hosni Mubarak. Afterwards, Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said that, in common with other Arab and African states, Egypt "does not accept the court’s manner in dealing with the Sudanese president."

But the office of ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo warned Bashir on Wednesday that there is no way for him continue business as usual and avoid being held to account.

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Libya, Eritrea and Egypt are not parties to the Rome treaty that created the ICC, the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal.

The ICC does not have a police force and calls on signatory states to implement warrants. However, all United Nations member states are urged to cooperate with The Hague-based court.

Even the United States, where the administration of former president George W. Bush described the Darfur conflict as genocidal, said on Tuesday it was under "no legal obligation" to arrest Bashir as it was not a signatory to the Rome statute.

On Wednesday, an Ocampo spokesman renewed the ICC prosecutor’s call for "all political leaders who might meet Omar el-Bashir to explain to him there is no possible way out."

"There can be no question of ‘business as usual’ with someone who is the subject of an arrest warrant on charges of such crimes," the spokesman said.

Doubts have been raised over whether Bashir will attend an Arab summit in Doha at the end of the month, with Sudan’s highest religious authority, the Committee of Muslim Scholars, issuing a fatwa, or edict, urging him not to go.

The United Nations says 300,000 people have died – many from disease and hunger – and 2.7 million been made homeless by the Darfur conflict, which erupted in 2003.

Khartoum puts the death toll at 10,000.

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

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