January 29, 2009 / 1:14 PM / 11 years ago

African Union wants Mbeki to head Darfur panel

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - The African Union has asked former South African leader Thabo Mbeki to head a panel on how to reconcile the need for accountability in Darfur with opposition to calls for Sudan’s president to be prosecuted.

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki attends the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit at the presidential guest house in Pretoria, January 26, 2009. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Jean Ping, the chairman of the AU Commission, made the announcement on Thursday at a meeting of the continent’s foreign ministers ahead of a February 1-3 AU summit in Ethiopia.

“I have written to President Mbeki to ask him to chair a high level panel to submit recommendations on how best to reconcile the fight against impunity (in Darfur) while also dealing with reconciliation and forgiveness,” Ping said.

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has accused Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of orchestrating genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

The court’s judges in The Hague are expected to rule within weeks on whether to issue an arrest warrant for Bashir.

International experts say 200,000 people have died and more than 2.5 million have been driven from their homes in the remote western region since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government in 2003. Khartoum puts the death toll at 10,000.

Fighting has escalated there ahead of the expected decision by the ICC judges. Bashir and his top political allies have repeatedly said they will not deal with the global court, which they dismiss as part of a Western conspiracy.

Ping gave no other details about his plan for Mbeki.

Meanwhile, the United Nations and African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is aiming to deploy 80 percent of its joint peacekeeping force there by March and the rest by June.

UNAMID took over from a smaller AU mission last year — but is well short of its promised strength of 26,000 troops.

Tanzania’s Bernard Membe, who heads the Executive Council of AU foreign ministers, said the success of the mission depended on getting maximum cooperation from Bashir’s government.

The AU has called for any indictment to be suspended.

“Most of us are members of the ICC, and much as most of us don’t condone atrocities, the solution that we are seeking in Darfur must seek the cooperation of the government,” he said.

“The cooperation of the government cannot come if we’ll be deploying our troops at the same time as President Bashir is indicted. It will bring a contradiction and the peace process will be brought to a halt.”

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