20 November 0615

Sudan: US Gives Its Blessings to Bashir's China Visit

Washington — The United States on Thursday called on China to use the visit of Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir to press him on implementing the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

The Chinese government confirmed Bashir's visit which was first disclosed by an Iranian official who was in Khartoum this week.

In Beijing the Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that Bashir is making the June 27-30 visit at the invitation of Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Bashir will hold meetings with his Chinese counterpart and other leaders and that talks would seek to promote peace in Sudan.

The visit comes ahead of South Sudan split from the North which occurs next month and amid growing military clashes on the North-South border regions.

"The two countries, accepting the new situation, will discuss how to advance and consolidate our traditional friendship, expand and deepen comprehensive cooperation and exchange views on the North-South peace process and Darfur issue," Lei said.

"China would like to play a positive role in promoting Sudan's peace and reconciliation, boosting the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and safeguarding regional peace and stability," he added.

This would be the first time Bashir traveled to China since the issuance of the warrant by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the first to a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

Bashir faces ten counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed in Sudan's western region of Darfur.

China is not a member of the Hague-based court and therefore has no obligation to arrest him.

In March 2005 the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) referred the situation Darfur to the ICC in a Chapter VII resolution despite Sudan not being party to the Rome Statute. China surprised observers and Khartoum by simply abstaining rather than using its veto power to block it.

Chinese companies are major investors in Sudan's oil, and China is Khartoum's top arms supplier, something long criticized by human rights activists and Western governments, especially because of the conflict in Darfur.

The United States urged China to use its clout to press Sudan on stopping the violence and adhering to peace accords.

"We hope that Beijing takes this opportunity to reaffirm the importance of stopping the violence, of getting back to the [peace agreement], and of full accountability for past issues," new State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

"China shares our interest in peace in Sudan," Nuland said. "So it is our hope that, in welcoming Bashir, they are going to make the same points that the international community have been making to both sides, frankly" she added.

Nuland acknowledged that China may believe its economic and commercial interests have more importance but noted wryly that "it's hard to have money and oil when there's no peace".

Asked whether she thinks its appropriate for China to receive Bashir she said that this is a "national; decision".

"Well, our position on Bashir is clear. China makes its own national decisions. We just hope that they use the opportunity of having him in town to make strong points to him about the future of his country and the importance of peace" Nuland said.

But Amnesty International lambasted China's decision to invite the Sudanese leader.

"If China welcomes Omar Al-Bashir it will become a safe haven for alleged perpetrators of genocide", said Catherine Baber, Deputy Asia Pacific Director at Amnesty International.

"China should not allow Omar Al-Bashir to enter its territory, and must arrest him if he turns up" Baber added.

She further stressed that "thousands of victims in Africa will perceive China as an accomplice to crimes under international law".

This week Bashir cancelled a visit to Malaysia for an economic summit preempting a Friday cabinet meeting in Kuala Lumpur that was considering withdrawing that invitation.

"We've extended invitations to all heads of state or government, and many of them are sending high-ranking representatives such as vice-presidents and ministers" Malaysia foreign minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman told reporters today.

"Do you think that a man who has been issued a warrant of arrest will come to Malaysia?" he said.

This week the Malaysian minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz had said that the presence of Bashir at the summit could be an embarrassment for the country.

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