The Sudanese government yesterday warned that the indictment of President Omar al-Bashir on genocide and war crimes charges would have "a direct negative impact" on the peace talks between Uganda and the LRA rebels.
It appealed to President Museveni to help Khartoum fight off the charges. In a response to the indictment of President al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Monday, Sudan's ambassador to Kampala, Hassan Gadkarim, appealed to President Museveni to use his position "as a neighbour, chairman of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC)" among others to help call off the ICC warrants.
Dismissing the ICC indictments as "legally baseless, politically motivated and ill timed," Mr Gadkarim said the threat of arrest hanging over the Sudanese leader "up-sets and subverts peace and stability in the whole region; in particular Sudanese peace initiatives with neighbouring countries, e.g. Juba Peace Talks."
Relations between Kampala and Khartoum have been frosty over the years with each country accusing the other of supporting rebel groups in either country. Relations improved in recent years with Khartoum allowing Uganda to send troops into its territory to hunt down Lord's Resistance Army rebels while the Government of SouthSudan, which the Sudanese People's Liberation Army rebel group formed after signing a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with Bashir in 2005, has mediated talks between Kampala and the LRA.
Khartoum yesterday appealed to Uganda to use its position "as a neighbour, chairman of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) as a partner in the implementation of the CPA, currently contributing to the AU peace-keeping force in Darfur, a member of the African Peace and Security Council, and a main player in the East African Community," to play a "role in this connection; by virtue of its own internal capacities, on the one hand, and by virtue of its capabilities to reach other influential parties within the region and the international community; at large."
In December 2003, the government successfully appealed to the ICC to indict top LRA leaders, including Joseph Kony, over war crimes committed in northern Uganda. In the petition, Uganda noted that the rebels had committed crimes that included rape, recruitment and use of children as soldiers and sex slaves, among other charges. The petition noted how the rebels had bases and support inside the Sudan.
Gen. Bashir is accused of masterminding the genocide in Darfur, western Sudan, in which an estimated 35,000 people have been killed, as well as using rape as a weapon of war. An official at the ICC in The Hague, who has closely followed the LRA investigation, said yesterday Gen. Bashir's indictment was not linked in any way to his support for the Ugandan rebels.
The Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the main partner in the coalition government urged Gen. Bashir to open talks with the ICC. The news agency Reuters quoted an SPLM official as saying; "we should open a window of consultation, exchange of views with the ICC," the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) spokesman, Mr Yasir Arma said.
State minister for International Affairs Henry Okello Oryem told Daily Monitor yesterday that it was not clear how the ICC indictments would affect the LRA peace talks.
"There may be extremists who may take advantage of the indictment," said Mr Oryem, who is part of government's delegation to the Juba talks. "The people who may not need Gen. Bashir may use the indictment as an excuse to subvert the process."
In response to Khartoum's request for help, Mr Oryem said Uganda would rally behind the African Union which on Monday called for a suspension of the warrants of arrest until the "primary problems" in Darfur and South Sudan were sorted out.
"Our position will be the same as that of the African Union. By having bad relations with Sudan in the past, does not mean we abrogate our position with AU,"Mr Oryem said. "In principal I don't think it is proper to indict a sitting head of state. I think it is dangerous."
"The Head of state enjoys immunity against prosecution but this does not mean we (Uganda) condone impunity; they can enjoy their presidential privileges without impunity. We should separate issues, Bashir as an individual and as a head of state. If you indict a head of state which justice are you going to apply? The international justice system, the Asian, American system?"
The opposition Democratic Party welcomed the indictment. DP's secretary for legal affairs and Kampala central MP Erias Lukwago said: "We hope that the ICC will also extend its arm to other countries like Uganda, Chad and Zimbabwe where similar atrocities have been committed."
The European Union also welcomed the warrant and called for its speedy execution.