Sudanese Candidate Al-Mahdi Wouldn’t Hand Over Bashir to ICC
Feb. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Sudan’s last elected leader, Sadig al-Mahdi, says he won’t hand President Umar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court if he wins the presidency in April in the country’s first multiparty elections in 24 years.
Bashir, who overthrew then-prime minister al-Mahdi in a 1989 military coup, is wanted by the Hague-based ICC on charges of being responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the seven-year-old conflict in the western region of Darfur.
“We believe that the idea of turning in Bashir threatens the stability of Sudan,” al-Mahdi said in a Jan. 28 interview at his home in Omduram, across the Nile River from the capital, Khartoum. A panel of foreign and Sudanese judges should investigate war crimes in Darfur, he said.
Al-Mahdi, 74, served as prime minister twice, in 1966-67 and again from 1986 until his overthrow. Now he’s the leader of the main faction of the Umma party and one of the main challengers to Bashir.
“He is the only one who still offers solutions and ideas to solve Sudan’s problems,” Fouad Hikmat, the Sudan adviser at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said Jan. 28 by phone from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
Al-Mahdi said that if elected, improving ties with the U.S. would be a priority.
“We think that it is very important that a friendship is formed between Sudan and the United States, based on justice and common interests,” he said.
Under Bashir’s rule, Sudan gave al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden safe haven in the 1990s and was designated by the U.S. as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993. The administrations of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama have accused Sudan of carrying out genocide in Darfur.
“There was a phase in which the Sudanese regime had policies welcoming extremists in Sudan, and this has led to the deterioration in relations,” al-Mahdi said. “But since then, the Sudanese regime in my opinion has started to change its policies, but the United States has not been convinced.”
Bashir is counting on winning the elections to avoid facing trial by the ICC, Hikmat said.
Clashes between pro-government forces and rebels in Darfur, along with tribal fighting, banditry and disease, have killed about 300,000 people, according to United Nations estimates. The rebels took up arms in 2003, saying the government neglected the region. The government puts the death toll at about 10,000.
“If the April vote will be rigged, it will be mostly rigged in Darfur,” Hikmat said. “If Darfur elected Bashir as president, he will use it as an argument against the ICC.”
Chances of Victory
Al-Mahdi’s chances of victory may depend on his ability to unite his followers with a faction of the Umma party led by his cousin, Mubarak al-Fadel, who is also running for president.
“Sadig will have a much better chance to win the elections if he unites the currently fragmented Umma party,” Hikmat said.
Al-Mahdi said his party is in talks with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, which rules the semi-autonomous region of Southern Sudan, to regulate ties between the north and south.
Southern Sudan is scheduled to hold a referendum next year to decide whether to secede from Sudan. The vote is part of a peace agreement signed in 2005 that ended a 20-year civil war between the mainly Christian and animist south and the Muslim north.
Al-Mahdi pledged a “conciliatory approach” to Bashir and his ruling National Congress Party.
“We think the NCP has political presence, and it should not be excluded in any way, like what happened in Iraq with the Baath party, which has had many damaging outcomes,” he said.
Analysts such as Hikmat believe al-Mahdi must tread carefully with Bashir’s followers because they have deeply entrenched themselves in government institutions.
“If al-Mahdi was elected as president, he will rule using state institutions which the NCP has consolidated its control over,” he said. “He won’t be able to rule without those institutions.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Maram Mazen in Khartoum via Cairo at [email protected]. Last Updated: February 1, 2010 00:49 EST