Sudanese president Omar al-Beshir began a visit to war-torn Darfur Wednesday, despite the spectre of a possible international arrest warrant for masterminding genocide in the region.
Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir, who faces a possible international arrest warrant for allegedly masterminding genocide in Darfur, began a rare visit to the war-torn region on Wednesday.
Wearing a suit, Beshir was greeted by a military honour guard at the airport in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state, said an AFP photographer.
He smiled, laughed and shook hands with local dignitaries who greeted him at the start of a two-day visit to the region -- his first since July 2007.
International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo last week accused Beshir of instructing his forces to annihilate three non-Arab groups in Darfur, masterminding murder, torture, pillaging and using rape to commit genocide.
The United Nations says that up to 300,000 people have died and more than 2.2 million have fled their homes since the conflict erupted in February 2003. Sudan says 10,000 have been killed.
The war began when African ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime and state-backed Arab militias, fighting for resources and power in one of the most remote and deprived places on earth.
Beshir will spend the next two days visiting the three state capitals in the vast arid region, El Fasher in the north, Nyala in the south and El Geneina in the west, accompanied by a bevy of officials and a plane load of journalists.
Foreign ambassadors were invited on the trip amid speculation that Beshir could possibly make an important announcement. British ambassador to Khartoum, Rosalind Marsden, was among those travelling on Wednesday.
"We're not sure what Beshir will be announcing, or if he'll be announcing anything, but if he does we should be there at the appropriate level," the British embassy told AFP.
"Of course it does not signify a change in our policy with regards to the ICC," the embassy added.
Beshir is scheduled to address popular ceremonies organised in his honour, inaugurate development projects and hold talks with state government officials, local leaders and political party representatives, the presidency announced.
State media quoted Beshir as reiterating to Arab lawyers on Monday that Sudan rejected any outside interference, "blackmail and pressure" and vowed again never to surrender any citizen to the international community.
His regime is focused on trying to persuade the UN Security Council to freeze possible legal proceedings should ICC judges actually issue an arrest warrant, on the grounds that it could jeopardise peace prospects.
The Council can pass a resolution to defer for a period of 12 months, renewable, any investigation or prosecution by the ICC with a majority of nine votes, including the concurring votes of all five permanent members.
"I think the purpose of the visit is to show that the people of Darfur do not agree with the ICC," said Adil el-Baz, editor in chief of the independent Al-Ahdath newspaper.
"It makes him look politically very good if the people of Darfur welcome him and observers see thousands of people rushing to welcome him. This will give him a new image in the international community," he told AFP.
The government is in full control of the three main towns of Darfur, which are heavily protected from the open desert and scrub where the conflict pitting the army and state-backed militias against ethnic rebels has been conducted.
Beshir arrived as the peacekeeping mission in Darfur announced that a UN security officer was undergoing hospital treatment after being beaten up by Sudanese government soldiers who forcibly took him to a military base.
The incident happened when the officer started taking pictures of a place in El Fasher market in order to investigate a road accident involving a UN staff member, a military vehicle and a taxi, the joint African Union-UN mission said.
"UNAMID condemns in the strongest terms such attacks on its staff members, who are here to help bring peace to the people of Darfur," it added.
Date created : 2008-07-23