ICC news overshadows Doha talks - Darfur rebels and Sudan officials exchanged blame for undermining three-day-old peace talks
DOHA, Qatar (AP) 13 February 2009 -
Darfur rebels and Sudan government officials exchanged blame for undermining three-day-old peace talks, which were overshadowed Thursday by fighting over a Darfur town and the prospect of an imminent international arrest warrant against Sudan's president for alleged war crimes. [...]
But the talks were shaken Thursday by reports that the Hague-based International Criminal Court will soon issue a warrant against President Omar al-Bashir, whom court prosecutors accuse of war crimes for allegedly masterminding genocide against Darfur's ethnic Africans. Al-Bashir denies the charges. [...]
The leader of JEM, Khalil Ibrahim, who was attending the Qatar talks this week, welcomed the report and said his group is ready to arrest al-Bashir if he doesn't hand himself in.
"A decision (by the ICC to issue a warrant) won't affect the Doha negotiation track, instead it reinforces the need for negotiations," Ibrahim said.
Some international workers in Darfur fear a warrant could spark a backlash by al-Bashir, leading him to end the peace process. Khartoum worries that the prospect of prosecution could harden rebels' negotiating positions.
The head of the Sudanese government delegation in Qatar, Amin Hassan Omar, railed against the ICC, calling it a "European court with a political character. It was used openly for political pressure," Omar said.
Omar accused JEM delegation of stalling during the negotiations, saying that they came to the talks with a "shopping list," insisting all their demands to be met. "Not everything demanded is to be answered," he said.
Meanwhile, JEM spokesman Ahmed Tugod accused Khartoum of undermining attempts at a political solution after fresh fighting on the ground.
Tugod, speaking from Darfur, said his fighters clashed with government troops who were advancing on Malam, a JEM-held town in central Darfur. Tugod said JEM repulsed the government forces.
"They want to improve their negotiating position," Tugod said in a satellite phone interview. "This clearly indicates that this government of Sudan has not taken yet a strategic decision to solve the problem of Darfur in a political manner. They insist on using military means. This will undermine the whole peace process."
The mediators say there is no set timetable for the talks, which continued with sessions Thursday.
In a related development, the American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, expressed disappointment at the U.N. Security Council's failure this week to reach consensus on a statement condemning the escalating civilian losses in Darfur.
Libya blocked the 15-nation council from issuing a unanimous presidential statement, objecting to language connecting Sudan's government to the aerial bombing and the proposed calls for it and all other military action to stop.
"We're really quite deeply disappointed that the Security Council after over a week of effort couldn't reach consensus on a clear presidential statement that would have condemned the increased bloodshed in Darfur," Rice told The Associated Press. "We had hoped to have a presidential statement that would have spoken with one voice in condemning the ongoing violence."
AP correspondent John Heilprin at the United Nations contributed to this report.