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ICC unveils Sudan leader decision

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir at the opening ceremony of the Merowe High Dam, in northern Sudan on 3 March 2009
President Omar al-Bashir has always denied backing Darfur militias

The International Criminal Court is announcing its decision on whether to indict Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir over alleged war crimes in Darfur.

If the tribunal goes ahead, it would be the first such warrant on a serving head of state.

There are fears of unrest and a backlash against a joint African Union-UN peacekeeping force.

Mr Bashir, who denies the charges, said on Tuesday the tribunal at The Hague could "eat" the arrest warrant.

The BBC's Peter Martell in Khartoum says the capital is very tense as people await the ICC's decision.

It will not be worth the ink it is written on
President Omar al-Bashir

He says there is heavy security and large pro-Bashir demonstrations are expected.

But he adds there is also a strong feeling in the city - albeit seldom openly expressed - in support of an indictment.

Meanwhile Sudanese security forces are reportedly out in force in the north-western Darfur town of El Fasher.

And aid agency, Medecins Sans Frontieres, says it has been ordered to remove all its international staff from a number of projects in west and south Darfur by 4 March.

Effigy

Sudanese army jets have been flying over the town and the UN-AU force is on a heightened state of alert.

Sudanese children at Darfur refugee camp - 26/6/2008

The UN estimates about 300,000 people have died and some 2.7 million been displaced in six years of conflict.

Opening a hydro-electric dam in northern Sudan on Tuesday, President Bashir poured scorn on the possible indictment.

He said the warrant would "not be worth the ink it is written on" and danced for thousands of cheering supporters who burned an effigy of the ICC chief prosecutor.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo requested the indictment last July for President Bashir on 10 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

He told journalists at The Hague on Tuesday he had strong evidence and more than 30 witnesses prepared to testify against the Sudanese president.

FROM THE BBC WORLD SERVICE

Alex de Waal, a Sudan expert at Harvard University in the US, told the BBC's Network Africa programme the pre-trial chamber of the ICC was expected to issue an arrest warrant for President Bashir.

He said the only real doubt is whether it will be for genocide or if the tribunal will stick to the less controversial charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

'Unnerving'

But an indictment warrant would be "pretty toothless", he added, as the ICC does not have a police force and it would be delivered to Sudan's government, which is unlikely to execute it.

Salva Kiir, Sudan's vice-president and leader of the south of the country, has issued a statement describing the possible indictment as "unnerving".

He said all Sudanese were hurt by the accusations against President Bashir, and urged southern Sudanese to refrain from demonstrations that could heighten tensions.

He called for diplomatic and political efforts to defuse the crisis.

African Union and Arab League states are calling for a year's delay to any indictment, warning it could plunge Sudan into deeper crisis - just as a new round of peace talks begin.

The five permanent UN Security Council members, who have veto power, are said to be divided on the issue.

The United States, France and Britain are supporting the call to bring President Bashir to book immediately for his alleged crimes.

Sudan's president remains defiant

But China, which has strong economic ties to Sudan, and Russia would likely support a delay, according to diplomats.

Meanwhile, there are concerns about a military build-up along the Sudan-Chad border.

The two countries have accused each other of giving shelter to rival rebel groups, and there are concerns that the actions of the ICC could have violent consequences.

The war crimes court has already issued two arrest warrants - in 2007 - for Sudanese Humanitarian Affairs Minister Ahmed Haroun and the Janjaweed militia leader Ali Abdul Rahman. Sudan has refused to hand them over.

The ICC - the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal which started work in 2002 - is also pursuing indictments for three Darfur rebel commanders accused of killing a dozen African Union peacekeepers.

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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
CNN U.S. meets aid groups over Darfur - 57 mins ago
Washington Post Darfur: fears of crisis if aid agencies leave - 2 hrs ago
Taipei Times Online Bashir joins rally against ICC, expels 10 aid agencies - 4 hrs ago
Guardian Unlimited Julie Flint and Alex de Waal: To put justice before peace spells disaster for Sudan - 7 hrs ago
Sydney Morning Herald Sudanese President delivers fiery response over international arrest warrant - 7 hrs ago



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