Sudanese leader defies arrest

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Sudan's president Omar al Bashir is a wanted man. He's the subject of an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court. But Bashir still travels abroad without fear of arrest, most recently to neighboring Chad. The World's Jeb Sharp has the story.

MARCO WERMAN: Another country that could split apart is Sudan. Next year, southern Sudan holds a referendum on independence. Tensions are already on the rise in advance of that vote. Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir has other concerns as well. Bashir continues to defy a warrant for his arrest from the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Last year, the ICC indicted him on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. This month it added genocide to the list. But as The World's Jeb Sharp reports, Bashir still travels abroad without fear of arrest, most recently to neighboring Chad.

JEB SHARP: Sudan and Chad are not known for their friendly relations but yesterday Bashir was welcomed in Chad with open arms and given a key to the capital. He downplayed past conflicts.


OMAR AL-BASHIR: Everything that happened previously between Chad and Sudan was an accident. We regret it enormously. Now we have turned the page. We are working together for the interest of our two nations. I have always thought of Chad as my second home, despite this war that both our countries went through.

SHARP: Making peace sounds good. But Chad is a member of the International Criminal Court and is theoretically obligated to execute the arrest warrant against Bashir. Chadian officials waved off the idea yesterday. The Chadian interior minister declared that Bashir would return home safe and sound. That's a problem says Suliman Baldo of the International Center for Transitional Justice in New York.

SULIMAN BALDO: The ICC cannot prosecute President Bashir in absentia. Therefore he has to be either handed over by his country or hand himself in or be arrested by a member state and turned over to the ICC.

SHARP: But Chadian Ambassador Mahamoud Adam Bechir defended the decision of his president Idriss Deby.

MAHAMOUD ADAM BECHIR: President Deby is not the type of person who invite his colleague and then arrest him. We are definitely members and signatories of the ICC court but also we are a founding member of the African Union and we respect and apply the position of the African Union.

SHARP: Last year the African Union called for its member states not to cooperate with the court's warrant for Bashir's arrest, worried it would threaten chances for peace. But Elise Keppler of Human Rights Watch says that AU decision doesn't let Chad off the hook.

ELISE KEPPLER: The AU decision does not deny or negate Chad's obligations as an ICC state party and we've seen that states like South Africa, Botswana have made clear they have a legal obligation as a state party to arrest suspects should they appear on their territory and we expect Chad to follow that same line.

SHARP: But analysts say that's not likely at a time when it's in both Sudan's and Chad's interest to keep tensions at bay. In the past both countries have carried out a proxy war by harboring rebel groups opposed to the other's regime. But recently they have cooperated in controlling those forces. John Prendergast of the advocacy group Enough says part of what's going on is that President Bashir is trying to project an image of calm at a time of impending trouble.

JOHN PRENDERGAST: We're heading into one of the most momentous junctures in Sudan's history in the form of the referendum for Southern Sudan's independence six months from now so President Bashir wants to demonstrate an air of normalcy, you know, there's nothing wrong here even though there are tremendous problems internally in Sudan. Darfur is increasingly unstable. We're seeing the conflict re-emerge and in the South all kind of warning signs.

SHARP: Warning signs that war could erupt again in what Prendergast calls one of the most troubled countries in the world. For The World, I'm Jeb Sharp.