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Bashir warrant should make dictators wary

Experts say International Criminal Court decision against Sudan's president sends a warning.

Sudanese officials said Bashir plans to attend an Arab summit later this month in Qatar, which does not recognize the court. They also indicate that African nations — even the 30 that are members of the court — will not seek to detain Bashir or prevent him travelling for summits.

Some diplomats believe African and Arab states may seek to have the prosecution suspended by the UN Security Council. The court’s statutes allow for such a move although it could be blocked by the United States and other Western nations that have been strongly critical of the militias loyal to Bashir for their brutal suppression of the rebellion in Darfur.

The ICC has no police force, and the 30,000 UN and African Union troops in Sudan have no mandate to arrest Bashir.

The ICC issued the warrant despite diplomatic concerns that it could provoke a backlash from the Sudanese government and its supporters, jeopardizing a fragile 2005 peace agreement that ended decades of civil war between Khartoum and rebels in the south of the country as well as negotiations to end the conflict in the western Darfur region.

One veteran UN diplomat who regularly travels to Sudan told GlobalPost the warrant risked destabilizing peace and reconstruction efforts without having any real impact on Bashir’s position, particularly since Asian nations, such as China, India and Malaysia, which have invested heavily in oil-rich Sudan have not signed on to the international court.

Thousands of Bashir’s supporters gathered in Khartoum on Wednesday to protest the indictment, raising fears of retaliation against Western interests. The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) said that it had been ordered by the Sudanese government to immediately remove all international staff from relief projects in south and western Darfur, saying it could not guarantee their safety.

Although the decision is unlikely to lead to Bashir’s early arrest some observers believe it could undermine support for him among the Sudanese army and the ruling National Congress Party (NCP).

“There are increasingly those within the senior ranks of the NCP who believe Bashir’s policy of confrontation with Sudan’s peripheral regions has been counterproductive,” the International Crisis Group said. “To preserve its economic interests and guarantee its survival, the NCP is likely to look for a way out of a situation, by changing its policies or leadership.”

The think tank’s deputy president, Nick Grono, played down fears that the court’s decision could spark wider unrest, saying Sudan’s international backers in China and the Gulf States would put pressure on the government to avoid instability that would threaten their economic interests.