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Bashir defiant over warrant threat
International criminal court to decide whether to order Sudanese president's arrest.
Last Modified: 03 Mar 2009 18:04 GMT

There are fears of violence by al-Bashir's supporters if the arrest warrant is issued by the court [AFP]

Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, has struck a defiant tone as judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) prepare to decide whether to issue a warrant for his arrest.

Judges in The Hague will decide on Wednesday if they will order al-Bashir to be detained to face allegations of war crimes in Sudan's western Darfur region.

"They will issue their decision tomorrow, and we are telling them to immerse it in water and drink it," al-Bashir told thousands of Sudanese who had gathered for the opening of a hydroelectric dam in northern Sudan on Tuesday.

The cheering crowd burned and stamped on an effigy of Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC prosecutor.

"They want us preoccupied with their issues, their accusations ... we want to say to people, don't be too concerned with these decisions," al-Bashir said.

'Strong evidence'

Moreno-Ocampo told reporters in The Hague on Tuesday that "strong evidence" had been compiled against the Sudanese president and dozens of witnesses are prepared to testify against him.

"We have more than 30 different witnesses who will present how he managed and controlled everything," he said.

"Bashir must go before the ICC, whether voluntarily or against his will"

Khalil Ibrahim,
Justice and Equality Movement leader

If the warrant is granted and an arrest carried out, the  65-year-old al-Bashir would become the first head of state to be hauled  before the ICC since the court opened its doors in 2002.

"As soon as Bashir flies outside of Sudan he could be arrested," Moreno-Ocampo told Al Jazeera.

"There is no immunity from international law."

Moreno-Ocampo said that "no one will try to arrest Mr Bashir in Sudan", although he said that international law would require the Sudanese government to act if an arrest warrant was issued.

The decision of the judges is set to be announced at 13:00 GMT.  

UN officials say that as many as 300,000 people have been killed in the Darfur conflict since 2003, while Khartoum says only 10,000 have died.

A further 2.7 million people are estimated to have been uprooted by the conflict, which began when mostly non-Arab fighters took up arms against the government, demanding better representation and infrastructure for their region.

Braced for backlash

In Sudan, Alain Le Roy, the head of UN peacekeeping operations, said that UN forces were preparing for possible violence if the ICC issues an arrest warrant for al-Bashir, but that he did not expect UN forces to be targeted.

"We have contingency planning to try to react to any situation," he said on Monday.

UN peacekeeping missions in Sudan do not have the mandate to arrest al-Bashir [EPA]
Le Roy said that the two UN missions in Sudan - one in Darfur and the other monitoring a 2005 north-south peace deal - would neither move nor change their normal patrolling activities whatever the ICC judges ruled.

"A decision which might affect the president of the country might have an effect on the ground, so it's important for us to be ready to answer ... We'll have to see how we'll react. I cannot give you the detail of what we are going to do," he said.

Neither of the UN peacekeeping missions in Sudan have a mandate to arrest al-Bashir, Le Roy said.

But one of Darfur's main rebel groups has offered to assist any arrest effort.

"Bashir must go before the ICC, whether voluntarily or against his will," Khalil Ibrahim, head of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), said.

'Violence and crime'

Ibrahim has accused Sudan's government of planning riots if the ICC issues an arrest warrant, and said that his group would respond to any government orchestrated violence.

"They are planning demonstrations ... I expect there may be violence and crime. I warn the government that any such action will be met with counter-measures, even in Khartoum. Violence will be met with violence," Ibrahim said.

"Any loss of lives or property is their responsibility."

China, the African Union and the Arab League have warned it could destabilise the region and threaten a troubled peace deal between north Sudan and the semi-autonomous south.

Foreign ministers for Arab countries will discuss their possible response to an arrest warrant for al-Bashir at a meeting in Cairo.

Some Western embassies have warned their citizens of the potential for violent protests if al-Bashir is charged.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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