AUC and Arab League want Mbeki to head Sudan talks

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The African Union (AU) will press for a negotiated peace settlement in the troubled Darfur region in western Sudan, rather than back the warrants of arrest slapped on the Sudanese President Hassan el-Bashir and others accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC), the AU Commission (AUC) Deputy Chairperson, Mr Erastus Mwencha, said in an exclusive interview on Friday.

By Juma Kwayera

Mwencha, however, reiterated that any form of impunity would be firmly tackled by the continental body, irrespective of the circumstances.

The AUC official was responding to growing concerns that the organisation was out to shield the Sudanese leader from justice for his alleged role in the killings in Darfur, where an estimated 300,000 people have died and two million others displaced by the conflict that broke out in 2003.

“The case of Darfur is unique. We cannot sacrifice peace in pursuit of justice. We are interested in processes that are complementary to each other, but which do not compromise the search for both,” Mwencha said.

The ICC wants Bashir, who was scheduled to arrive in the Ethiopian capital on Friday for the 12th AU summit, to face criminal charges for crimes against humanity, genocide and gross human rights violations.

The AUC and the Arab League, in what is called the Qatar Initiative, wants the warrants of arrest to be withdrawn and replaced with a panel of eminent African persons, chaired by former South African President Thabo Mbeki.

The two organisations are invoking Article 16 of the Rome Statute that created the ICC, which provides for staying of the warrants of arrest when and where circumstances necessitate.

Mwencha said that Bashir had a major role to play in the Darfur peace and his arrest and prosecution would only escalate the crisis.

In the build up to the 1-3 February heads of state meeting, the AUC has expressed outrage against the ICC for targeting of African leaders for prosecution.

At a press conference early this week, AUC Chairman Jean Ping lambasted the ICC for being insensitive to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur and its alleged aversion to alternative process.

Ping accused the ICC of meting out selective justice and “double standards” to punish alleged impunity in Africa.

Mwencha said peace must precede justice, adding: “Once this is done, we shall support the prosecution of anyone cited in the ICC warrants of arrest.”

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