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Sudan divided over ICC charges against Bashir

Most support president but non-Arabs say he should be tried by international court.

Since the ICC's arrest warrant was issued against Bashir in March, the state propaganda machine has churned out scores of Bashir posters and bumper stickers that are seen all over Khartoum. The president appears both commanding and vulnerable. The state message is clear — Sudan stands behind its leader and rejects the ICC as a biased neo-colonial tool of powerful nations.

The country’s Arab population from a wide range of classes — academics, businessmen, merchants and students — supports Bashir and believes that their leader has been unjustly framed.

“There were gross crimes committed but targeting Bashir is not the solution,” said, Jafaar Mirghani, a well-known historian in the capital city.

Among Sudan's small non-Arab intelligentsia, many have an opposing view that Bashir should be tried for crimes, but they do not have power.

“I am firmly convinced that you cannot have sustainable peace without justice,” said Nasreedeen Abdulbari, a Harvard-educated lawyer who teaches international law at Khartoum University.

These non-Arab intellectuals along with a handful of Darfurian leaders who support the ICC are labeled by the state media as pawns of Western countries and international NGOs. “Bashir has manipulated all public opinion,” said Alfred Taban, a Christian and the editor of "The Khartoum Monitor" newspaper, which is subject to regular visits by the censor inspectors.

The Christian majority of South Sudan, however, has little interest in Darfuri problems, and is occupied with the 2011 referendum that will allow them to decide on whether to secede from the Muslim northerners against whom they have fought two bloody civil wars lasting 40 years.

Internationally, the calls for an immediate arrest of Bashir appear to be weakening. The Group of 77 nations (G77), which includes 132 of the United Nation's 192 members, is under the chairmanship of Bashir for 2009.

As international political pressure dims, even the pro-ICC groups may be prepared to look past the arrest warrant if the Bashir government truly delivers on peace. This means allowing free and fair national elections in 2010, and working out a peace deal which gives the people of Darfur a real stake in the political pie.

The former rebel leader, Minnie Minnawi, observed that the time is ripe for the Bashir government to make meaningful compromises. “Most important there must be a voluntary release of power to the Darfurians,” said the fierce Zaghawa fighter who signed a failed peace agreement in 2006.

In Darfur, the government clamps down on millions of voices inside the displacement camps but humanitarian workers suggest that the first priority of the war victims is for the fighting to stop. They also fear that someone worse may take Bashir’s place.

A Darfurian aid worker in the displacement camps of South Darfur, who would only identify himself as Mohammad, described the ICC indictment of Bashir as “strange.” “It is dividing the Sudanese community and disrupting the work of the humanitarian operations and the peacekeeping force,” he said.

A merchant in New York City, Rahama Daffallah, recently returned from visiting his family in the Abu Shouk camp in North Darfur. Although, he really despises Bashir, Daffallah isn’t sure about the arrest warrant. “I ask myself that even if the ICC takes him away and cuts his head, then what will we get?”