November 4, 2009 / 11:13 AM / 10 years ago

Sudan's Bashir to visit Turkey despite warrant

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir will visit Turkey next week for the first time since an international court asked for his arrest, government sources said, in a test of Ankara’s support for international justice.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir attends the 11th summit of Saharan states in Sabrata, 70 km (44 miles) west of Tripoli, May 29, 2009. REUTERS/Ismail Zetouni

Predominantly Muslim Turkey has not ratified the 2002 Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court (ICC), but it is under pressure to do so to bring it closer to European Union standards.

Rights groups say Turkey, anxious to secure entry into the EU, is obliged to arrest Bashir when he lands in Istanbul for a summit of Islamic nations.

One presidential source in Khartoum said on Wednesday: “The decision has been taken. Unless there are last minute changes, he is going.”

Ankara’s government, which has its roots in political Islam, has sought to deepen ties with Khartoum, putting it in an awkward position over the visit.

Asked if Turkish authorities would arrest Bashir during his visit, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official said on condition of anonymity: “No, there are no such plans.”

A public outcry about Bashir’s visit to Turkey could still cause it to be cancelled, which would embarrass Khartoum, one Sudanese analyst said.#

Activists said there was sure to be opposition from civil society to the visit, adding Turkey had obligations to arrest Bashir as a U.N. member.

“We most certainly expect Turkey to show respect for this monumental decision by the ICC,” said Ozlem Altiparmak from the Turkish Coalition for the ICC.

“Turkey could see a backlash in public opinion and from civil-society groups if it fails to act while he is here.”

The U.N. Security Council referred Darfur’s atrocities to the ICC for investigation in 2005.

Based in The Hague, the ICC is the world’s first permanent court set up to try individuals for genocide, war crimes and other major human rights violations.

Bashir has travelled to African countries, who reject the arrest warrant, since March when ICC judges said he was responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region. He was last in Turkey in August 2008, before the arrest warrant was announced.

Rebels in Darfur took up arms in early 2003, accusing Khartoum of neglecting the arid region, and Sudan then mobilised militia who, alongside the army, waged a counter-insurgency campaign that drove 2 million people from their homes.

The fighting sparked one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, which the United Nations says has claimed 300,000 lives.

Washington described the violence as genocide, a term Khartoum rejects. Bashir puts Darfur’s death toll at 10,000.

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