KHARTOUM (AFP) – Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir, who rode back to power in an election last month, is on Thursday to be sworn in as head of Africa’s biggest state facing conflict in Darfur and with an international arrest warrant hanging over him.
Beshir’s latest mandate in his 21-year rule is seen as crucial for Sudan, where southern former rebels are seeking to secede. A referendum on southern independence is scheduled for January next year.
Beshir will address parliament, in a ceremony attended by a handful of heads of state and several Western diplomats that kicks off at 0800 GMT.
In March 2009, the African leader became the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court. He stands accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
The seven-year-old conflict in the vast western region pitting the army and Arab militias against ethnic minority rebels sparked US charges of genocide and Western anger that he refused to cooperate with the International Criminal Court or surrender wanted officials.
His alleged crimes against humanity include murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture, and rape, and two counts of war crimes — attacks against civilians and pillaging.
Judges are still considering whether or not to press genocide charges against Beshir over the conflict in which 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million fled their homes, according to the United Nations. Khartoum puts the death toll at 10,000.
On Wednesday, an aide to Beshir said Khartoum had ruled out further negotiations with Darfur’s most heavily armed rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), dashing hopes of peace in the arid desert region.
Beshir was declared winner in the April 11-15 elections with 67 percent of the vote, in polls marred by accusations of fraud and logistical problems.
His re-election was virtually guaranteed after the withdrawal of his two main challengers ahead of polling day.
Observers from the European Union and the Carter Centre monitoring polling said after the vote ended that the election had failed to reach international standards.
In a speech celebrating his disputed re-election victory last month, Beshir vowed to campaign for unity against the ambitions of southerners.
And on Monday, newly elected parliament speaker Ibrahim Ahmed al-Taher focused on the referendum in his inaugural speech.
“The assembly’s first task is to call upon southerners to preserve the unity of Sudan because that is what serves their interests,” said Taher, a member of Beshir’s National Congress Party, which controls parliament.
The vote was promised as part of a peace deal between the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the Khartoum government that ended Africa’s longest-running war in 2005.
Salva Kiir, who heads the SPLM, was sworn in as the first elected president of the autonomous region of south Sudan on Friday.