7 May 2009

Sudan: Facing Arrest, Bashir Stays Away From South Africa

Cape Town — Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir will not attend South African President-elect Jacob Zuma's inauguration Saturday, a top South African official said at a media briefing Thursday.

According to Johannesburg’s Business Day, a government spokesman said earlier this week that Bashir had been invited to the ceremony.

However, a presidential source told Business Day, “If he does [attend], that will create a situation, and we would be forced to arrest him, and we don't want that."

The International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for Bashir's arrest on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. South Africa is a signatory to the Rome Statute, which established the court, which would compel authorities to arrest Bashir were he to visit the country.

South Africa’s Department of Foreign Affairs director-general Ayanda Ntsaluba said at the Thursday briefing that although Bashir will not be attending, Sudan was sending a government delegation for the inauguration ceremonies.

Even without Bashir, South Africa is grappling with a few sticky issues in diplomatic protocol.

In the past two years, Kenya and Zimbabwe have formed fragile coalition governments in response to disputed elections. In both countries, there are disagreements over the balance of power between the president and the prime minister.

At the briefing, Ntsaluba told reporters that “in the case of Zimbabwe, where we are facilitating discussions and are strongly supportive of the inclusive government, we have discussed the possibility of inviting some parties in the inclusive government. This is being attended to as we speak.”

His statement raised the possibility that Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai would be at Zuma’s inauguration.

However, Ntsaluba did not comment on whether Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga was invited.

Last week, Odinga called for early elections after his request to be made head of government business – technically, the chair of the House Business Committee in the legislature – was rejected.

According to the Nairobi Star, Raila told a crowd of supporters in his Nairobi constituency last week “our role in the coalition must be respected because we ceded more ground than we expected for the sake of peace, but our partners have pushed us to our limit. If they don't honour the national accord, ODM [his party, the Orange Democratic Movement] is ready for fresh polls.”

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