ISTANBUL, (Reuters) – Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, on his first trip abroad since the International Criminal Court moved to indict him for war crimes, on Tuesday denied that his forces had committed genocide in Darfur.
Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo last month asked the court to issue an arrest warrant for Bashir on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, saying his state apparatus had killed 35,000 people and indirectly at least another 100,000.
Bashir, who has defied the ICC and calls the court’s move part of a neo-colonialist agenda to protect the interests of developed countries, said that his government forces were not responsible for crimes in Darfur.
“We are not committing genocide in Darfur,” Bashir told Turkish President Abdullah Gul during a meeting in Istanbul, according to a Turkish official close to the talks. “We are saddened by the events there,” Bashir was quoted as saying.
The two men, who met for 30 minutes in an Ottoman-era palace by the Bosphorus strait on the sidelines of a Turkey-Africa economic summit, did not discuss the ICC nor the case against Bashir. Bashir does not accept the legitimacy of the court.
NATO member Turkey has not ratified the treaty forming the ICC but is under pressure to become a member as part of negotiations to join the European Union.
ICC judges could take weeks or months to issue a warrant, but have never failed to issue one after a prosecutor’s request.
Sudan has warned the United Nations of “serious consequences” for its staff and facilities if an arrest warrant is issued, a U.N. envoy told the Security Council on Monday.
African and Arab states are pushing for the suspension of moves by the court to indict Bashir and say they could hamper efforts to bring peace to Darfur.
International experts estimate 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes in Darfur since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003 accusing central government in Khartoum of neglect.
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has called on Turkey to express its support for the court during Bashir’s visit.
Gul, who asked Bashir to give priority to Turkish investors in Sudanese oil fields, said during the meeting that events in Darfur were a “human drama” and that “everybody should make an effort to diminish the pain”, according to the Turkish official.
The summit in Istanbul is expected to be attended by leaders from 40 African countries, as Turkey seeks to tap into the African continent’s vast energy resources.
Turkey, which has signed liquefied gas agreements with Algeria, is seeking to boost investment and trade with sub-Saharan Africa, following similar moves by emerging powerhouses China and India.
In recent years, Turkey has boosted investment in Sudan.