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Mbeki named to heal Bashir rift

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum (04/03/2009)
Omar al-Bashir is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity

The African Union has appointed former South African President Thabo Mbeki to chair a committee to investigate human rights violations in Darfur.

South Africa's Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said Mr Mbeki's role was to intercede between the International Criminal Court and Sudan.

The ICC has issued an arrest warrant for Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir over atrocities committed in Darfur.

Mr Bashir has rejected the charges and accused the ICC of colonialism.

The African Union has asked the ICC to delay the charges for a year, warning that attempts to arrest Mr Bashir could further destabilise the situation in Darfur.

Mr Mbeki brokered the deal for Zimbabwe's political rivals to share power following last year's disputed elections.

He was accused by some of being too soft on President Robert Mugabe.

A spokesman for Mr Mbeki confirmed that he had accepted the appointment.

Aid workers' fears

On Thursday, Mr Bashir told thousands of cheering supporters at a rally in the capital Khartoum that the charges were part of a Western plot against Sudan.

"We are telling the colonialists we are not succumbing; we are not submitting; we will not kneel; we are targeted because we refuse to submit," he said.

DARFUR CONFLICT
Map
300,000 died
2m homeless
Black African rebels say they face discrimination
Government denies mobilising Arab militias

Immediately after the warrants were announced, Sudan expelled several aid groups from Darfur, accusing them of having a political agenda.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the decision could cause "irrevocable damage" to the humanitarian operations and urged Sudan to reverse the order.

"The operations of these agencies are key to maintaining a lifeline to 4.7m Sudanese people who receive aid in Darfur," Mr Ban said.

The statement also expressed concern about the safety and security of national and international humanitarian workers in Sudan and their assets.

"The confiscation of equipment, money and other materials is unacceptable and must end immediately," it said, while stressing that the agencies involved affected had acted "in a neutral and impartial manner".

Among the international aid groups ordered out of Darfur are Oxfam, Care, Medecins Sans Frontieres and Save the Children UK.

'Coincidence'

Sarah Jacobs of Save the Children Africa told the BBC that children in Sudan would suffer if the charity was prevented from operating in the country.

"We support 50,000 children, trying to protect them from abuse, from physical and sexual violence, trying to get them back into school," she said.

Farchana camp, Darfur
Aid workers fear for Darfur camps after the ICC decision

"These are very traumatised children, many of them."

Sudan's deputy permanent representative to the AU, Akuei Bona Malwal, told the BBC that the agencies had been "deemed to have worked beyond the permit that was given to them".

He said it was a "coincidence" that the agencies had been expelled on the same day as the ICC issued the warrant.

The conflict in Darfur flared into open violence in 2003 when black African rebel groups took up arms against the government in Khartoum, complaining of discrimination and neglect.

Pro-government Arab militias then started a campaign of violence, targeting the black African population.

The UN says this has led to some 300,000 deaths and forced more than two million people from their homes.

The US has said this amounts to a genocide but the ICC rejected a request to charge Mr Bashir with genocide.

The government has always denied charges that it helped organise the militia attacks.

Mr Bashir has been charged by the ICC with two counts of war crimes: Intentionally directing attacks against civilians and pillaging.

He is also accused of five crimes against humanity counts: Murder; extermination; forcible transfer; torture and rape.

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