CAIRO, (AP) – Egypt, one of the strongest U.S. allies in the Middle East, welcomed Sudan’s president on Wednesday despite an international warrant seeking his arrest on charges of war crimes in Darfur.
Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s wanted leader, was making his first high-profile journey abroad since the warrant was issued March 4 by the International Criminal Court. He was emboldened by the 22-nation Arab League’s decision not to act on the warrant, though three of its member countries are signatories to the court’s founding treaty.
Al-Bashir is also planning to attend an Arab summit in Qatar at the end of the month, though the prime minister of that country says it is under pressure not to host him.
His visit to Egypt was another show of defiance by al-Bashir, who responded swiftly to the arrest warrant by expelling 13 international aid groups from Darfur, exposing hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the six-year conflict to the potential threat of greater humanitarian crisis.
The ICC charged al-Bashir with leading a counterinsurgency against Darfur rebels that has involved rapes, killings and other atrocities against civilians. His government has been accused of unleashing Arab militiamen known as janjaweed against Darfur civilians in a drive to put down a revolt by ethnic Africans in the western region.
Up to 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have been driven from their homes since 2003, according to the U.N.
Al-Bashir is expected to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during his one-day visit to discuss developments in Sudan.
Al-Bashir briefly visited the politically isolated African nation Eritrea on Monday — his first venture abroad since the warrant. But Egypt is a major U.S. ally in the Middle East and a heavyweight in the Arab world.
Under the ICC charter, member states should arrest those indicted when they enter their territory. Egypt, however, is not an ICC signatory and both it and the Arab League have backed al-Bashir.
The United States is also not a member of the court, but the White House and the State Department said that anyone who has committed atrocities should be held accountable.
Qatar’s prime minister, Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Al Thani, said his nation has been subjected to “pressure” not to receive al-Bashir at the March 27 Arab League summit, Qatar’s official news agency reported, though Qatar is also not a signatory to the court’s treaty.
The Qatari premier, who also serves as foreign minister, visited Sudan Tuesday to personally invite al-Bashir to the summit.
“There are pressures, but you know Qatar well. We have extended the invitation,” he said, according to the report. “We respect international law and we respect the attendance of President al-Bashir and welcome him. It is a purely Sudanese decision.”