July 26, 2010 / 6:06 PM / 7 years ago

UK to boost trade with Sudan despite rights concerns

* Britain wants to increase exports to Sudan

* ICC warrant for Bashir won't stop bilateral trade

By Opheera McDoom

KHARTOUM, July 26 (Reuters) - Britain wants to trade more with Sudan, a vast African country whose president is wanted for genocide and war crimes, Britain's new minister for Africa said on Monday.

On his first official visit to Sudan, Henry Bellingham said Britain's new government sought to encourage companies to invest more in Sudan, particularly in its oil and services sectors.

"We will be candid friends of the government," Bellingham told reporters after meeting Sudanese government officials.

"We voiced our concern about certain issues but we also said we want the relationship to be a strong one and one where UK bilateral trade will increase."

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur last year. The court later added genocide to the charges, accusing him of orchestrating murders and other crimes in the western region.

Many companies have been cautious of any Sudan links, particularly after the United States imposed sanctions against the country in 1997. Britain's previous Labour government has also mainly focused on Sudan's human rights situation.

Bellingham said the new government, which came to power this year, wanted to boost trade while remaining a staunch supporter of the ICC which has issued an arrest warrant for Bashir.

"We feel the government of Sudan should cooperate with the court on the existing arrest warrants but on the other hand we don't have an argument with the Sudanese people and it would quite perverse and wrong for us to not encourage trade because trade equals wealth," Bellingham said.

The policy shift could deal a blow to a global campaign to put pressure on companies, mainly from the United States, to stop doing business with Sudan because of human rights concerns.

Some Sudanese struggling to make a living however will welcome Britain's initiative which could open European markets to private businesses. Critics also say that U.S. sanctions have failed to put pressure on the government.

"There are no UK sanctions, there are U.S. sanctions... and indeed we will try and find ways round some of the problems," said Bellingham, adding that he wanted to see "more UK banks taking a positive view towards Sudan".

He said British exports to Sudan were 123 million pounds ($190 million) last year and Sudanese exports to Britain stood at 18 million pounds. He added Britain could use the community of 35,000 Sudanese living in Britain as a way to expand trade. (Editing by Maria Golovnina)

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