How Omar al-Bashir sneaked out of SA

2015-06-21 06:10
Omar al-Bashir at the AU Summit in Joburg recently. His presence in SA has sparked heated discussions about SA’s legal obligations. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla

Omar al-Bashir at the AU Summit in Joburg recently. His presence in SA has sparked heated discussions about SA’s legal obligations. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla

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Amid a confusing sequence of events, government sent out an SMS to wait to arrest Sudan’s leader, while a small group of officials sneaked him out

Government security agencies were informed by SMS last Sunday at 6pm to prepare plans for the possible arrest of Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, should he try to sneak out of the country, or if court action succeeded.

But five hours later, al-Bashir’s I1-62 jet was quickly and on short notice moved from OR Tambo International Airport to Air Force Base Waterkloof. The plane was hidden in one of the hangars of the VIP squadron, far away from where the other visitors’ planes were parked.

The next day, al-Bashir’s convoy raced off from the African Union heads-of-government summit in Sandton, escorted by police, to Waterkloof.

While on his way there, the plane had been started and the crew had already been granted permission by the control tower to take off. By 11.45am the plane was in the air.

Al-Bashir’s dramatic escape took place a day after North Gauteng High Court Judge Hans Fabricius handed down an interim order forbidding the Sudanese leader – wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for genocide – from leaving the country.

The SMS sent to government security agencies informing them to prepare plans to arrest al-Bashir read: “Re Sudan court order. All respective committees at NATJOINTS [National Joint Operations] were given tasks to come up with ops plans by 08:00 tomorrow morning. IF an order is given to arrest Sudanese HoS. [al-Bashir] DHA DG [department of home affairs director-general] who is currently in court with the litigation personnel will give an instruction thereafter as to what needs to happen. BCOCC [border control operational coordinating committee] will have to ensure that that instruction is given to all ports of entry tonight whilst we are waiting upon DHA instruction.”

Questions now remain as to who gave the order to government security agencies to hold back on their operational plans so the Sudanese president could slip out of South Africa safely.

The initial movement schedule for the AU summit that was sent to all relevant agencies and airports by the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco), confirms that al-Bashir was expected at OR Tambo around 3.10pm last Saturday. He eventually landed about two hours later.

The same schedule gives al-Bashir’s departure time as Tuesday, 16 June, at around 11am from OR Tambo. It didn’t say how many people would be in his party.

It has also emerged that al-Bashir’s bodyguards doubled their requirements for the firearms they needed to bring into South Africa.

They first asked for permission for five weapons, but later requested authorisation for five more.

South African border police officers stamp such weapons authorisations upon entry into the country, and again when they leave.

All 12 departments involved in what is now seemingly a great escape, who were named as respondents in the urgent application last weekend in the North Gauteng High Court to have al-Bashir arrested in accordance with a warrant issued by the ICC, have questions hanging over them.

In the high court on Monday, where the application was continuing, Advocate William Mokhari – for the state – only admitted two hours after al-Bashir’s plane had left South African airspace that the Sudanese president was indeed gone.

Insiders involved in making the arrangements said the movement schedule, which the department of international relations sends out daily, showed that the department had not been consulted in the “escape plan” or that another department had taken over the arrangements for al-Bashir’s movements. It is not clear which department that is.

Government faced a barrage of criticism this week for failing to act on the court order that al-Bashir be arrested. The ICC and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had called on South Africa to honour its obligations in terms of the Rome Statute and arrest al-Bashir.

Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, which instituted the court action, said they were disappointed government had not acted on the order granted by the court.

“That is a huge failure and we are deeply disappointed. We had full faith in the South African government that they would comply with their obligations.

“So we waited until he [al-Bashir] arrived in the country and there was proof that the South African government had not arrested him. We then proceeded with the court proceedings,” she said.

Ramjathan-Keogh said the state’s decision to oppose their application took them by surprise.

“We didn’t anticipate the state would oppose the application. We expected that one of the eventualities would be that the state would come to court and say they were preparing to arrest him – so the application should not proceed,” she said.

– Rapport

Read more on:    sudan  |  omar al-bashir

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