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Page last updated at 12:37 GMT, Wednesday, 23 July 2008 13:37 UK

Sudan president defiant in Darfur

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir waves to supporters in Fasher, Darfur, 23 July 2008
Mr Bashir addressed crowds of supporters during a tour of Fasher

Sudan's president has said he is "not worried" by International Criminal Court (ICC) accusations against him, during a rare visit to Darfur.

Omar al-Bashir made the comments at a rally in the northern town of Fasher shortly after the start of his trip.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo sought an arrest warrant against Mr Bashir last week on charges including genocide and war crimes in Darfur.

Sudan has said it does not recognise the ICC or its decisions.

Meanwhile, the Arab League said Sudan had agreed to set up special courts to deal with Darfur.

Diplomatic offensive

During his trip to the region, Mr Bashir is to visit a series of aid projects, accompanied by officials and ambassadors.

"We're here to send a message to the world, we're people of peace, we want peace, we're the ones who make peace," Mr Bashir told supporters in Fasher.


We will continue developing Darfur and will pump out its oil

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir

"Ocampo talk does not worry us," he said. "We know who's behind him and who's pulling his strings."

BBC Africa editor Martin Plaut says the visit is an opportunity for Mr Bashir to show his concern for the region, and for people there to express their affection for him at popular ceremonies.

Sudan has been on a diplomatic offensive since the ICC announced its charges, winning the backing of the Arab League and the African Union, our Africa editor says.

'Liar'

Mr Moreno-Ocampo has accused the Sudanese leader of running a campaign of genocide that killed 35,000 people outright, at least another 100,000 through a "slow death" and forced 2.5 million to flee their homes in Darfur.

During Wednesday's rally in Fasher, Mr Bashir's supporters chanted "liar, liar, Ocampo".

"We will continue developing Darfur and will pump out its oil," the president told them.

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"They want us to be a lackey of the government of America."

The US, which is not a member of the ICC, had previously offered some praise for Mr Moreno-Ocampo's move.

Sudanese Vice-President Ali Osman Taha said last week that the evidence was false and indicated Sudan could try to halt the court's work.

Sudan's government denies mobilising Arab Janjaweed militias to attack black African civilians in Darfur since rebels took up arms in 2003.

The African Union has called for the United Nations Security Council to suspend the accusations, while the Arab League said they set a dangerous precedent.

Special courts

The AU supplies most of the 9,000 peacekeepers in Darfur. The UN took joint control of the operation at the start of the year but the violence is continuing.

On Wednesday, the Arab League said Sudan had agreed to set up special courts to try alleged human rights abuses in Darfur.

A senior official for the Arab League, Hisham Yussef, said Sudan had also agreed to allow the trials to be monitored by international bodies.

Mr Moreno-Ocampo has said he is also investigating leaders of Darfur rebel groups suspected of attacking peacekeepers last year in the southern town of Haskanita.

On Wednesday, the leader of southern Sudan, Salva Kiir, urged the ICC to delay Mr Bashir's indictment and allow time for a peace agreement with former southern rebels, Reuters news agency reported.

Fighting in an oil-rich area on the border of southern Sudan has recently threatened to derail a 2005 peace accord that ended 21 years of civil war - a separate conflict to that in Darfur.

"The Sudanese government should be allowed to implement the accord signed with the South Sudan government and to negotiate with the fighting forces in Darfur," Mr Kiir said.



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