JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Malawi will allow Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir into the country for a regional trade summit starting on Friday and has no plans to arrest him under an International Criminal Court warrant, a senior government official said on Thursday.
"Malawi believes in brotherly coexistence between COMESA states and beyond so we will not arrest him. He is a free person in Malawi," Deputy Foreign Minister Kondwani Nankhumwa told Reuters.
The decision will likely lead to the further diplomatic isolation of Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika, who is locked in diplomatic row with major aid donor Britain and earned
international condemnation after government forces killed 20 protesters at anti-government rallies in July.
COMESA is the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.
The ICC issued an arrest warrant last year for Bashir on charges of orchestrating genocide in the Darfur region, where as many as 300,000 people have died since 2003.
The European Union in August expressed concern about a second visit to Chad by Bashir, saying he should have been arrested. Bashir has also gone to countries including Kenya, Djibouti and China since warrants have been issued.
The ICC earlier issued a warrant in March 2009 for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Bashir has dismissed the charges by the ICC, the world's first permanent court for prosecuting war crimes, as part of a Western conspiracy.
The influential international right group, Human Rights Watch, said Malawi was bound by its international obligations to arrest Bashir.
"Malawi should instead uphold its commitment to justice for grave crimes by cooperating with the ICC, as civil society across Africa has called on their leaders to do," said Elise Keppler, senior counsel with the group.