Al-Bashir back in Darfur

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Ten days after he was indicted on a charge of genocide Omar al-Bashir danced his way back to the scene of his alleged crimes on Wednesday.

By Barney Jopson in el-Fasher

The Sudanese president, returning to Darfur for the first time in a year, climbed on a table to dance to music that cut through the still desert air, swinging his arms in the style of a military march and rocking his frame from side to side.

The crowd rocked with him, 10,000 Darfuris waving fists, flags and canes in time with the music, in a mass of state-orchestrated fervour that extended as far back as straw huts on the horizon.

Last week Mr Bashir became the first sitting head of state to be indicted for genocide by a permanent international court – a controversial move that some suggest could lead to the break-up of the country.

On Wednesday he began a two-day tour of Darfur, delivering a message that mixed demonising Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the International Criminal Court prosecutor who laid charges against him of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur, with promises to deliver security, roads, schools and water to the region.

In his first stop, el-Fasher, it initially appeared that a cross-section of Darfur society had thronged to see the president: shy teenage soldiers with rifles, militia men on horseback, elders in billowing white robes, schoolgirls in camouflage fatigues and huddles of women swathed in shawls.

But as they explained why they had come to the pan of waste ground next to el- Fasher airport, it was clear they did not represent all the voices of Darfur.
“Ocampo wants to catch our president and take him to Europe and I am here because I refuse any attempt to catch him,” said Adam Mohamed Malit, a teacher.

It was not a day for supporters of the Darfur rebels, who have interpreted the ICC indictment as a sign that the international community is finally about to step in.

In his speech Mr Bashir said the ICC prosecutor was an agent working for foreign powers intent on destabilising Sudan but did not specify which of the prime candidates he meant: Sudan’s regional rivals, Chad and Libya, or the west.

But by the president’s standards, the speech was restrained, and he saved words for peace-making and development. The sun climbed to its highest point as he spoke and women fainted and were carried away on stretchers by Red Crescent volunteers.

A handful of ambassadors – from, among other countries, the US and the UK – sat on leather chairs in the shade of a makeshift canopy, having been flown in to ensure the rest of the world heard Mr Bashir’s message.

The trip is the grassroots leg of the government’s response to the ICC, which involves drumming up international opposition to the indictments by trying to demonstrate its renewed commitment to ending the five-year conflict that has left some 300,000 dead and 2.5m displaced, according to United Nations estimates.

But while Mr Bashir said “we know there were injustices”, he continued to dissociate himself from the Darfur conflict, speaking about it in vague terms and never referring to the rebel movements with whom a peace deal is needed.
“We want to send this message to the world: we are the people of peace, we want peace . . . we are the only ones who can achieve peace in Darfur,” he told the crowd. He invited Sudan’s political parties, tribal leadership and rebel groups to join in what he called his new initiative for peace.

But whether the tour signalled a government change of heart or another example of its political manoeuvring was not immediately clear.

The Financial Times

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