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Wednesday 25 April 2018

Sudan president arrives in Khartoum

Omar al-Bashir during a photo op at the African Union summit in Johannesburg (AP)
Omar al-Bashir during a photo op at the African Union summit in Johannesburg (AP)

Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has arrived in Khartoum to cheers of supporters after leaving South Africa, where a court had ordered his arrest based on an international warrant for war crimes charges.

Mr al-Bashir raised a stick in the air as he stepped out of the plane, waving to a few hundred supporters who greeted him at the airport.

Some chanted "God is Great" while others cried with joy.

A South African court ruled that Mr al-Bashir, who was attending an African Union summit, should be arrested. The ruling came after he left.

Mr al-Bashir, who has been in office since a 1989 military coup, is wanted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes allegations linked to the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region.

At the Khartoum airport, supporters of the president raised posters reading "Lion of Africa" scribbled next to a picture of Mr al-Bashir in military uniform, while others carried a coffin with a white sheet wrapped around it reading: "The ICC to its last resting place."

Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour said: "The president will continue his participation (in international events) as usual and the attempts to distract us will not sway us."

In Geneva, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon insisted that the International Criminal Court's authority must be respected.

The International Criminal Court's charges against Mr al-Bashir stem from reported atrocities in the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region, in which 300,000 people were killed and two million displaced in the government's campaign, according to United Nations figures.

Judge Dunstan Mlambo criticised the South African government for failing to heed the instructions of the court in Pretoria, which had ordered Mr al-Bashir's arrest.

Judge Mlambo said: "It is of concern to this court that we issued orders and then things just happened in violation of those orders."

In the Hague, International Criminal Court deputy prosecutor James Stewart said "in our view it was very clear" that South Africa should have detained Mr al-Bashir so he could have been brought to trial.

Mr Stewart added: "Their obligation was to arrest president al-Bashir.

"I think however what is important to remember is that we act really in the interest of victims.

"The concern of the prosecutor is for the victims of dreadful atrocities and these victims are Africans."

South African officials have declined to comment, though government attorney William Mokhari said African leaders at the summit in Johannesburg had immunity and there was no basis for arresting Mr al-Bashir.

Leaders of the African Union are cautious about interfering in each other's affairs and highlighting alleged human rights abuses on a continent with a history of conflict.

C ritics of the International Criminal Court also say it has unfairly targeted African leaders. But Stewart said most of the African cases were initiated by African governments themselves.

At one point, Mr Mokhari, the South African government lawyer, told the judges that there was no risk of al-Bashir "disappearing" while he attended the summit.

But not long after he uttered those words, South African journalist Erika Gibson tweeted photographs of what she said was Sudan's presidential jet taking off from a South African military base.

Sudanese state media then said al-Bashir had left South Africa and that a news conference will be held at Khartoum airport upon his arrival.

Elise Keppler, international justice acting director for the US-based Human Rights Watch, said that if Mr al-Bashir was indeed on the plane, it was a missed opportunity to bring him to justice.

"By allowing this shameful flight, the South African government has disregarded not only its international legal obligations, but its own courts," she said in a statement.

Mr al-Bashir appeared in a group photo with other African heads of state on Sunday at the summit.

The African Union had previously asked the ICC to stop proceedings against sitting presidents and said it will not compel any member states to arrest a leader on behalf of the court.

In a government notice published June 5, South Africa's minister of international affairs, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, signed an agreement granting diplomatic immunity to delegates participating in the African Union summit.

The Southern Africa Litigation Centre, a rights group, had gone to court to press for Mr al-Bashir's arrest.

In March, the International Criminal Court halted proceedings against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta after the prosecution said it did not have enough evidence against him.

Mr Kenyatta, who is attending the summit in Johannesburg, was charged in 2011 as an "indirect co-perpetrator" in post-election violence that left more than 1,000 people dead in 2007 and 2008. He always maintained his innocence.

Kenyan deputy president William Ruto is on trial for crimes against humanity in the election-related violence.

Press Association

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