Friday, Feb. 13, 2009 12:45am GMT Reuters report by Louis Charbonneau
U.S., France, UK oppose suspending Bashir Darfur case
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.S., British and French diplomats told African Union and Arab League delegates on Thursday that they oppose suspending a war crimes indictment of Sudan's president over atrocities in Darfur, diplomats said.
U.N. diplomats and officials said on Wednesday the International Criminal Court had decided to issue an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is accused by the court's chief prosecutor of overseeing genocide in Darfur.
The court, based in The Hague, said on Thursday it had not reached a final decision but U.N. officials said the Sudanese government was already aware that Bashir would be formally indicted later this month.
"At this moment we're not ready to support an initiative that would implement Article 16," French Deputy Ambassador Jean-Pierre Lacroix said, referring to an ICC statute that allows the Security Council to suspend the court's proceedings for up to a year at a time.
Lacroix spoke after a closed-door meeting between U.N. Security Council members and African and Arab delegations.
Council diplomats said the U.S., British, Austrian and Croatian envoys also told the meeting that they opposed deferral of an ICC indictment of Bashir. Russia and China joined the Africans and Arabs in voicing support for a deferral, saying it was in the interests of peace.
Lacroix said the supporters of a suspension appeared to lack a majority in the council. Since Britain, France and the United States are permanent council members with veto powers, they could block any moves to invoke Article 16.
As expected the informal council meeting took no action but diplomats said they would be returning to the issue.
Britain's Africa minister Mark Malloch Brown said earlier this week that it was "completely unlikely that anything is going to happen which could lead to an Article 16 deferral."
'NO ONE GIVES A DAMN'
Bashir is the most senior figure pursued by the court since it was set up in 2002. If the warrant is issued as expected, he will be the first acting head of state indicted.
Sudan rejects the accusations made by chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo last July and says it will never hand over Bashir or two other Sudanese men already indicted by the court.
"For us this so-called indictment doesn't exist," said Sudan's U.N.
Ambassador Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem. "No one will give it a damn in the country. If it has any merit, it has united the whole Sudanese people around our president."
China, the African Union and Arab League have all suggested that an indictment of Bashir could destabilize the region, worsen the Darfur conflict and threaten a troubled peace deal between north Sudan and the semi-autonomous south.
Ocampo accuses Bashir of orchestrating a campaign of genocide in Sudan's western Darfur region, starting in 2003. Ocampo has said this killed 35,000 people outright and at least 100,000 more through starvation and disease.
Khartoum rejects the term genocide and says 10,000 people died in the conflict.
(Additional reporting by Aaron Robert Gray-Block and Catherine Hornby in Amsterdam, Andrew Heavens in Khartoum, Skye Wheeler in Juba, South Sudan)