Egyptian leader visits Sudan to discuss Darfur

By Joe DeCapua

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met for several hours today in Khartoum with Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir. The two men discussed the crisis in Darfur, over which the International Criminal Court (ICC) could issue an arrest warrant for Mr. Al-Bashir for war crimes.

Nick Grono, deputy president of the International Crisis Group, spoke from Brussels to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the Egyptian president's visit to Sudan.

"It's good that Egypt is engaged in what is a very important regional issue for it. Egypt has always been concerned about what happens in Sudan," he says. One main reason is importance of the Nile River, which flows through Sudan.

President Mubarak is quoted as saying, "The best way to find a solution to this problem is the Arab and African initiative." Grono explains, "There's an initiative at the moment, which is called the Qatari Initiative. The government of Qatar is looking at holding peace talks with the involvement of the Sudanese government obviously, the chief mediator and those rebel groups that are willing to participate, and pulling together the African Union and Arab League in this process. That initiative got underway two or three months ago, although it's yet really to be fleshed out and it's unclear exactly what's being proposed."

The possibility that the ICC could seek the arrest of the Sudanese leader plays a major role in peace efforts. "It's a very important issue. Right now, the judges of the International Criminal Court are considering an application by the prosecutor as to whether to issue an arrest warrant for President al-Bashir for crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes. The latest speculation is the decision may be December or more likely January. If the arrest warrant went ahead, then President Bashir would be facing arrest if he traveled outside the country for various serious crimes. The Sudanese government is very, very concerned about this and seeking to take, at least superficial steps that would address the threat. And what its strategy is focused on is what's called Article 16 of the Rome Statute," he says.

He says that Article 16 is a provision of the ICC that gives the United Nations Security Council an option "to put prosecutions on hold for one year renewable. So, right now, Sudan is trying to persuade the UN Security Council to exercise that power and defer the prosecutions."

On Sunday Sudan rejected a call by rebel group JEM, the Justice and Equality Movement, for one-on-one talks with the government. JEM had called for the separate talks since various rebel groups had failed to unite on the issue.

The crisis in Darfur could also affect the stability of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended the civil war between the north and the south. Grono says, "What happens in Darfur has the potential to destabilize all of Sudan. And the SPLM, the ruling party in the south, is watching very closely what the implications of that are. The big picture issue is what happens with South Sudan, which should have a referendum on independence in 2011. And so the government in Sudan and the South are positioning themselves and viewing everything through the lens of their strategic interests, vis-à-vis, that referendum."

The International Crisis Group deputy president would like to see US president-elect Obama become more engaged in the Sudanese peace process.

"His foreign policy experts have spoken out very strongly in the past on Sudan. He has a great deal of expertise at his disposal on this. And we hope that the US will engage in a comprehensive way. In the past, the US has kind of had divisions between state and defense and the war on terror interests and peace and stability interests. And we hope that the new administration will come in with a strong comprehensive approach to building peace and security in Sudan."