Did Sudan hold South Africa peace troops in Darfur hostage in exchange for Bashir? No, says Khartoum


S. Africa had previously said it would arrest Bashir. Botswana, disappointed he "avoided arrest when he cut short his visit and fled, in fear..."

SUDAN’S army denied a report that its troops surrounded bases in Darfur where South African peacekeeping forces are stationed while President Umar al-Bashir attended an African Union summit in Johannesburg.

“There is no military conflict between the two nations to involve the army,” spokesman al-Sawarmi Khaled said Tuesday by phone from Sudan’s capital, Khartoum.

Netwerk24, a South Africa- based website, earlier cited unidentified military officials as saying Sudanese soldiers had encircled the bases as a South African court debated al-Bashir’s potential arrest on war-crimes charges.

South Africa’s High Court on June 14 ordered the government to ensure al-Bashir stay put while it decided whether he should be arrested under a war-crimes indictment.

At a hearing in Pretoria on Monday, a judge ordered preparations to be made for the 71-year-old’s detention, only to be told by a state lawyer that he’d left the country. Netwerk24 reported that the Sudanese troops withdrew after al-Bashir’s departure.

About 1,400 South African troops are in Darfur as part of a combined African Union, United Nations peacekeeping force. Al- Bashir was indicted in 2009 and 2010 for his alleged role in atrocities in the western Sudanese region.

The Darfur conflict has led to the deaths of as many as 300,000 people, mainly due to illness and starvation, while about 2.5 million people have been displaced, according to UN estimates.

A week to explain

Meanwhile the South African government has a week to explain to judges why it defied a court order barring the Bashir from leaving the country.

The government said it would investigate the circumstances surrounding Bashir’s departure on his presidential jet that took off from a military base.

“We will also comply with the court order relating to submission of an affidavit outlining these circumstances,” the government said in a statement.

A constitutional law expert warned that South Africa’s decision to defy the court order on Bashir did not bode well for the country’s justice system.

“When a democratically elected government flouts the orders of a court, it undermines public confidence in the courts and undermines the legal system as a whole,” said Pierre de Vos, who is based at the University of Cape Town.

De Vos said the decision “constitutes a deliberate, pre-meditated, act of contempt of court.”

Bashir’s presence overshadowed the summit held in Johannesburg, placing the South African government under scrutiny.

South Africa is a signatory of The Hague-based ICC and has come under global criticism for failing to arrest Bashir.

‘Amplifies tensions’

“The decision by South Africa not to arrest al-Bashir amplifies the tension between the AU and the ICC which has been simmering for some time now,” according to Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International Africa Research and Advocacy Director.

Belay said the organisation had hoped that South Africa “being a leading democracy would execute its obligation and arrest Bashir…we had high expectations.”

“However we are comforted by the progressive ruling of the court.”

Since his indictment, Bashir has mostly travelled to countries that have not joined the ICC and South Africa had previously stated that it would arrest him.

South Africa’s neighbour, Botswana, said it was disappointed that Bashir “avoided arrest when he cut short his visit and fled, in fear of arrest, to his country”.

“We have consistently indicated that should President Al-Bashir come to Botswana, we will pursue the spirit of the law as outlined in the Rome Statute,” read a statement from President Ian Khama’s office.

Botswana urged the AU to “lead by example” and cooperate with the ICC in “ensuring that President Al-Bashir is made to account for the atrocities committed in Darfur”.

African nations have always been divided over the role of the ICC. Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe is one of the leaders calling for countries to withdraw from it. Zimbabwe itself is not a member.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon also joined the chorus of criticism over South Africa’s failure to arrest Bashir, saying the arrest warrant was “a matter I take extremely seriously and the authority of the ICC must be respected.”

South African rights group, the Southern African Litigation Centre, which led the court action, has threatened to take further legal action against the state over its handling of the case.

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