CAIRO, Egypt (AP) – The Arab League’s envoy to Sudan on Tuesday described the indictment of the country’s president on genocide and other charges as a serious blow to peace efforts in Darfur.
The Egyptian diplomat, Salah Halima, told reporters at his office in Cairo that the indictment filed by a prosecutor at the International Criminal Court on Monday will have a negative impac on the stability of a region already beset by internal and cross-border conflict.
Also Tuesday, Yemen reacted strongly to the court action, the first Arab nation to publicly come to the defense of the head of Sudan’s Arab-dominated government. Egypt’s foreign minister also spoke out in support of Sudan’s government, but elsewhere in the Arab world governments have not openly come to the defense of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
Foreign ministers from the 22-nation Arab League will meet Saturday in response to a request from Sudan for an emergency session.
Yemen’s leader phoned al-Bashir, and its Foreign Ministry called the indictment “a grave and unacceptable interference in Sudan’s internal affairs and in the affairs of all Islamic and Arab countries.”
The Arab League envoy said the court’s prosecutor overstepped his jurisdiction with the charges accusing al-Bashir of orchestrating campaigns to wipe out ethnic African tribes in Darfur. Sudan is not a member of the Netherlands-based court, the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal.
In an apparent reference to the United States, Halima accused governments that have themselves refused to recognize the court of pressuring it to go after the Sudanese leader. “There are countries with political agendas that target Sudan,” he said.
Egypt’s foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, warned Tuesday of “the danger of irresponsibly approaching the situation in Sudan” and said the indictment risks destabilizing the country further.
In defense of Sudan’s government, he said “many parties inside and outside Sudan bear responsibility for the suffering of civilians in the region” of Darfur. He also called for the conflict to be resolved through diplomacy and said an international conference should be held to set out a “road map” and timeline for achieving a political settlement.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Monday after a summit in Paris and expressed fears that the indictment would threaten efforts to reach peace between Sudan’s government and numerous rebel factions, said Mubarak’s spokesman, Sulieman Awwad.
International aid groups are concerned that the court’s action could trigger a backlash against humanitarian groups whose work is vital for sustaining the 2.5 million people displaced since the conflict began in 2003.
The humanitarian group CARE said tension has increased in Darfur. The group has temporarily suspended the movement of its staff to sites in Darfur and in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, where it provides food and other services to more than 1 million people.
The group said it would be able to maintain essential services in the short term, though it warned that conditions in Darfur and in its camps for the displaced would quickly deteriorate unless aid groups are permitted unrestricted access.
“We call on all parties and persons in Sudan to respect the independent and humanitarian nature of our work … and to protect our ongoing access to those people who are in need of our assistance,” the group said Monday.
An Egyptian human rights research group welcomed the charges against al-Bashir, calling the court action an “important” and “just retribution for the victims of the monstrous acts committed by the Sudanese army and the janjaweed militias that enjoy the protection of the Sudanese authorities.”
The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies said “hunting down perpetrators of such crimes whatever their positions are, and bringing them to justice is a main step toward rebuilding peace in Sudan.”