News24

Zambia invites wanted al-Bashir

2010-12-14 09:00

Lusaka - Zambia has invited Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to a regional summit even though he faces a 2009 international war crimes warrant, and says he will not be arrested if he attends.

"Zambia is a member of the African Union and the AU says he has not been found guilty. So he will not be arrested," chief government spokesperson Ronnie Shikapwasha told reporters from state-run newspapers over the weekend.

In September, the African Union called for a year's delay in al-Bashir's prosecution, saying a trial would interfere with efforts to end the seven-year conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region, where up to 300 000 people have died and 2.7 million been forced from their homes, according to UN figures.

On Monday, Zambian government spokespeople refused to say whether al-Bashir was expected to accept his invitation to the regional summit, which is scheduled to open on Wednesday. The meeting will review environmental issues about Lake Tanganyika, whose fragile ecosystem has been a matter of concern to countries like Zambia, Tanzania, Congo, Rwanda and Burundi which share its waters.

The International Criminal Court has called for the arrest of al-Bashir on suspicion of war crimes and alleged genocide in Darfur. But several African and other nations have declined to carry out the warrant.

At the Hague on Monday, court spokesperson Fadi El Abdalla said prosecutors have alerted the court's judges to Zambia's decision.

"Judges will decide what is the best measure to take," the spokesperson said.

Al-Bashir denies wrongdoing and rejects the authority of the Hague, Netherlands-based court known as the ICC. The UN Security Council granted the ICC jurisdiction over Sudanese war crimes in 2005, but the court has no police force or ability to enforce its orders without cooperation from governments.

Zambia became a full member of the ICC in 2002 and a Zambian, Florence Mumba, has served on the court's panel of judges.

The decision to invite al-Bashir to Zambia has been criticised by opposition politicians in Zambia.