5 Mar 2009

Sudan dismisses arrest warrant against leader

3:38 pm on 5 March 2009

Sudan has dismissed the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court against its leader as a "neo- colonialist" move to destabilise it.

President Omar al-Bashir is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. It is the first such warrant served against a serving head of state.

Hours after it was issued, Sudan expelled several foreign aid agencies.

The United States and the European Union welcomed the international court's ruling, but some Arab and African nations said it would hinder peace efforts in Darfur.

The UN estimates that 300,000 people have died in the six-year conflict. Millions more have been displaced. Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday urged Sudan to reverse its decision to expel the aid agencies.

A panel of ICC judge ruled that Mr Bashir should answer two counts of war crimes, and five counts of crimes against humanity.

Mr Bashir is accused of "directing attacks against an important part of the civilian population of Darfur", said Laurence Blairon, a spokeswoman for the court in The Hague.

She told reporters the attacks had included "murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians and pillaging their property".

But the panel rejected a further accusation of genocide, saying there was insufficient evidence of a specific intent to destroy particular ethnic groups in Darfur.

The UN court would transmit a request for Mr Bashir's arrest and surrender as soon as possible to the Sudanese government, she said.

However, the Sudanese government, which had said it would ignore any ruling, reaffirmed it had no intention of co-operating with the International Criminal Court.