KAMPALA: African countries are divided about whether they should arrest Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al Beshir on charges of genocide, acccording to diplomats at a regional summit.
Beshir was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes in Darfur last year. This month the court added genocide to the charges, accusing him of orchestrating murders, rapes, and torture in the troubled western region.
A draft of a resolution to be passed at the African Union (AU) meeting in Ugandan capital Kampala, seen by Reuters, contained two contentious clauses that have triggered horse-trading behind the scenes at the event.
But both paragraphs were removed after arguments that went on until 3am on Sunday, AU and Western diplomats said.
The first clause advised African countries not to arrest Beshir if he visited them — even if they had signed up to the ICC as 30 African countries have.
“(The AU) reiterates its decision that AU member states shall not cooperate with the ICC in the arrest and surrender of President Beshir,” the paragraph said.
The second deleted clause attacked prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.
“Those two parts caused a big fight between the delegates,” an African diplomat, who was at the meeting, told Reuters. “Beshir is dividing us.”
The latest draft resolution also “rejects for the moment” a request by the ICC to open an “Africa liaison office” in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, diplomats said.
Some African leaders say the court is obsessed with prosecuting Africans and ignores war criminals on other continents.
AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping has said the decision to prosecute Beshir has undermined peace efforts in Sudan.
AU summits have been marked by fights over issues such as Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi’s “United States of Africa” plan and the ICC.
The rows often pit northern and western states — rallied by Qadhafi — against a group of countries seen by analysts as close Western allies and usually helmed by South Africa.
“South Africa, Ghana and Botswana led the argument that the clauses should be removed,” a Western diplomat, who had seen the altered draft, told Reuters.
“Libya, Eritrea, Egypt and some other countries who have not signed up to the ICC fought strongly against that but they lost out in the end.”
Beshir went to Chad this week in defiance of his arrest warrant on his first visit to a full ICC member since he was charged. The court said Chad should arrest Beshir, but Chad said after his arrival that it had no intention to do that.