KHARTOUM – The UN was pulling non-essential staff from Darfur on Tuesday as Islamist protesters rallied behind Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir over allegations he masterminded a campaign of genocide in the region.
Fears of a violent backlash have mounted since the International Criminal Court chief prosecutor on Monday sought an arrest warrant against Bashir on 10 counts including war crimes and the use of rape to commit genocide in Darfur.
The African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission said it would be flying out non-essential staff to Ethiopia and Uganda, despite pledges from Sudan to protect peacekeepers and aid workers in the country.
Meanwhile, China urged the International Criminal Court to rethink its arrest warrant for Sudan’s president Tuesday in a sign of Beijing’s skittishness over its already difficult relationship with the African country.
China, which buys two-thirds of Sudan’s petroleum exports, has been repeatedly criticized for not using its economic leverage to apply more pressure on Bashir to end a civil war in his country’s Darfur region.
US President George W. Bush said Tuesday he wanted to see how it “plays out,” but that Khartoum could face more sanctions. Bush said since the US is not a party to the ICC, Washington would “see how that plays out,” he told a news conference.
The European Union has also urged Sudan to turn over two leading war crimes suspects. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier says such a gesture “would constitute an element of positive appreciation” of Sudan by the international community. France holds the rotating EU presidency, and Chevallier was speaking Tuesday on behalf of the 27-member union.
The first two minibuses carrying staff left UNAMID headquarters in El Fasher around midday en route to the local airport where they were expected to fly to Entebbe in Uganda, witnesses said. “It’s not an evacuation. We’re temporarily relocating staff, some non-essential staff,” said Josephine Guerrero, spokeswoman for the UN-led peacekeeping mission. – Agencies