KHARTOUM, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Russia is planning to step up its diplomatic involvement in African issues including Sudan’s Darfur crisis, the country’s envoy to Sudan said on Sunday.
“Russia is back in Africa,” Mikhail Margelov told reporters at the start of a six-day visit to Sudan, adding Moscow had an “open door” to anyone looking for support for development projects.
Russia’s involvement in Africa peaked during the days of the Cold War when it vied for influence over many of the continent’s newly independent states with the United States.
But Moscow’s influence waned as the Cold War came to a close. China has since become a major player in Africa, and is now the biggest buyer of Sudanese oil.
“Russia is ready to play a more active role on the African continent,” said Margelov, who is also chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
“We want our voice to be heard in all the international discussions on African problems. We understand our part of the responsibility for what is happening in the African continent and we are serious about it.”
Margelov said his government was still formulating its position on Sudan’s festering Darfur conflict, and on a looming International Criminal Court case against Sudan’s president over alleged war crimes in Darfur.
The global court’s chief prosecutor has asked judges to issue an arrest warrant against Sudan’s president Omar Hassan al-Bashir, accusing him of orchestrating genocide during almost six years of conflict in the remote western region.
The judges are expected to rule on the request in coming weeks.
Russia’s position on the case is key because, as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, it has the power either to propose or veto a postponement of the ICC case.
Russia has so far not made any moves to postpone the proceedings, nor has fellow council member China.
Margelov, appointed as Russia’s envoy to Sudan in December, said he was planning to visit Washington and European capitals in February to discuss the ICC case and its impact on Sudan. He added he was also planning to visit Darfur and Juba, the capital of Sudan’s semi-autonomous south, during his visit.
“I will not say that Russia is ready to formulate its position. We are working on our position now,” he added.
International experts say 200,000 people have died and more than 2.5 million have been driven from their homes since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government in 2003, accusing it of neglect.
Khartoum mobilised mostly Arab militias to crush the revolt and denies accusations by activists that it committed genocide during the counter-insurgency. (Reporting by Andrew Heavens; Editing by Charles Dick)