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AU seeks to delay Sudan war crimes charges
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Feb 2, 2009 - 5:40:15 AM

AU seeks to delay Sudan war crimes charges

Sudan's President Omar el-Beshir won backing from his peers Monday to postpone a war crimes trial amid complaints that Africans appear to be the sole targets of the global war crimes court.

The African Union has agreed to lobby for a one-year suspension in the case against Beshir, saying a trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) could threaten Sudan's peace process.

The 53-nation bloc is seeking to "mobilise support from the international community to suspend for 12 months the process launched against President Al-Beshir, to give a greater chance to the peace process," AU Commission chief Jean Ping said during a summit meeting here.

"At the same time, we encourage the Sudanese authorities to continue their efforts to find a definitive solution to the problem of impunity," he added.

The ICC's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, wants to try Beshir for alleged war crimes in the western Darfur region of Sudan, which is suffering a bloody civil war.

Denying all the charges, Khartoum has refused to cooperate with the ICC.

A panel of judges is reviewing the evidence to determine whether there are reasonable grounds to try Beshir. It would be the court's first indictment of a sitting head of state.

Beshir's foreign affairs adviser Mustapha Osman Ismael told AFP that his country would follow any decision taken by the summit, which wraps up Tuesday.

"Whatever decision the AU is going to take, we are definitely going to back it. As they have showed solid support to the Sudan in the past, we are expecting their backing to resume this time as well," he said on the sidelines of the summit.

The legal move against an African president has drawn concern at the summit, where some officials say it appears the ICC is only targetting African leaders.

"What emerged from the debate that we have, is that we think there is a problem with ICC targetting only Africans, as if Africa has been a place to experiment with their ideas," Ping told reporters.

"A judge should be impartial," he said. "The law should apply to everyone and not only the weak."

Ping said that the international community often denounces African leaders for failing to pursue justice at home, but questioned why similar action was not demanded for conflicts in Gaza, Iraq or Sri Lanka.

"We are raising this type of question because we don't want a double standard. But we are not against fighting impunity," he said.

"We have to judge our criminals ourselves. That is why we have decided to constitute a high-level panel to help ourselves to try people accused," he added.

Ping said he has asked former South African president Thabo Mbeki to head the panel, which would seek ways to balance the need for justice with efforts to build reconciliation and peace.

The African Union has moved to prosecute former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre, whose government was accused of some 40,000 political killings and who now lives in exile in Senegal.

In July 2006, the African Union asked Senegal to prosecute Habre for war crimes and crimes against humanity, but he is still awaiting trial.

The AU is also concerned by "abuses of the principle of universal jurisdiction", according to a text being considered at the summit.

The case in point was Rose Kabuye, chief of protocol to Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who was arrested in Germany on a French warrant over accusations of conspiracy to a political murder which sparked the 1994 genocide.

The bloc said negotiations are still underway with the European Union for a possible moratorium on international arrest warrants issued by EU countries, and deplored Kabuye's arrest, which it said "created a tense situation between the AU and the EU."

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