5 Mar 2009

Darfur arrest warrant hailed

9:44 am on 5 March 2009

Human rights groups are hailing an arrest warrant issued against the Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir by the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

He is accused by the court of masterminding attacks on three ethnic groups in the Darfur region of Sudan in a campaign which has claimed as many as 500,000 lives and left nearly three million homeless.

However, the panel said it had insufficient grounds for a charge of genocide.

President Omar Al Bashir, 65, faces two charges of war crimes and five of crimes against humanity.

The charges are the first leveled by the Court against a sitting head of state since its inception in 2002.

In Khartoum, crowds took to the streets on Wednesday to denounce the court's decision.

The government says the court's decision came as no surprise and was part of a neo-colonialist plot to destablise the country.

In response, it revoked the operating licences of a number of international aid agencies.

And an official of the African Union says the move could threaten the peace process in Darfur, describing it as already ailing.