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French president has tough words for Sudan’s Bashir

November 29, 2008 (DOHA) — The French president Nicolas Sarkozy today warned his Sudanese counterpart Omer Hassan Al-Bashir that he needs to step up efforts to end the five year conflict in Western region of Darfur.

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy (L) talks with Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir (R) following a meeting on the sidelines of the UN conference on Financing for Development in Doha on November 29, 2008 (AFP)

Sarkozy met with Al-Bashir privately on the sidelines of the UN development conference being held in the Arab Gulf state of Qatar. No other officials were present.

"I told him that the Darfur tragedy has now gone on for too long, that he must take initiatives and change things" the French president told reporters after his meeting.

The ruler of Qatar Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani was reportedly supposed to attend the closed door summit. There was no word as to why he skipped it.

Sudanese minister for international cooperation Al-Tigani Fidail told state news agency (SUNA) that the meeting discussed the Arab-African mediation efforts on Darfur and that Bashir reiterated his support to it.

Khartoum has been lobbying Paris in its bid to defer the indictment of Al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In mid-July the ICC’s prosecutor Luis Moreno- Ocampo filed 10 charges: three counts of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and two of murder and accused Al-Bashir of masterminding a campaign to get rid of the African tribes in Darfur; Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa.

The African Union, Arab League, Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) called for invoking Article 16 which allows the UNSC to suspend the ICC prosecutions in any case for a period of 12 months that can be renewed indefinitely.

But Western members of the UNSC such as US and France made it clear that they would veto such a resolution was introduced at this point in time.

Sarkozy suggested that Sudan has yet to embrace changes for his country to support a suspension under Article 16.

He said the changes to be made concerned the tumultuous relations between Sudan and neighboring Chad and the situation inside Sudan "regarding human rights, and the presence of certain people in his government."

Last September Sarkozy made it clear that his country will not support a deferral resolution unless certain conditions are met.

"France wants the Sudanese authorities to radically change their policies. It is now up to Mr. Al-Bashir to determine what exactly he wants" Sarkozy said.

"We want to deploy the international force in Darfur to stop the scandalous situation in which tens of thousands are dying in this part of Africa. We want peace in Sudan as well as peace and the territorial integrity of Chad… people in Darfur have the right to live and we cannot accept the situation as it is currently" he added.

“There would be no recourse to invoking Article 16 unless there is radical and immediate change in Sudanese policies” he said.

"If Sudanese authorities do change; totally change their policies then France would not be opposed to using Article 16" the French president added.

A Sudanese delegation flew to Paris in October to negotiate conditions that would secure a deferral.

France has been the only country to publicly offer Sudan a suspension of charges in return for concessions on the ground with regard to the Darfur crisis and relations with neighboring Chad.

Moreover French officials have said that it is “unacceptable” that an individual indicted of war crimes to be part of the Sudanese cabinet. This was in reference to Ahmed Haroun, state minister for humanitarian affairs who is wanted by the ICC for 51 counts of war crimes.

Last month a senior European diplomat told Sudan Tribune that Khartoum offered to remove Haroun and investigate his alleged role in Darfur war crimes.

Sudanese officials insisted however, that any prosecution of Haroun is contingent upon coming up with evidence implicating him. They further said they will not cooperate with the ICC in conducting national proceedings as demanded by Paris.

Relations between the two countries have been troubled particularly over the presence of Abdel-Wahid Al-Nur, leader of Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) who resides in France despite demands by Khartoum that he be expelled.

Al-Nur has been refusing to attend peace talks insisting that Khartoum honor a ceasefire and facilitate deployment of UN peacekeepers in Darfur.

Earlier this month Al-Bashir lashed out at Western countries and accused them of trying to topple his regime during the last 20 years.

"We will not be broken and we will not kneel or be driven because they will not prolong our life or reduce our term in office" Al-Bashir told a rally in Eastern Sudan.

"Money and ruling is not in the hands of US, France & UK. They are all underneath my shoes" he said angrily.

UN experts estimate some 300,000 people have died and 2.5 million driven from their homes. Sudan blames the Western media for exaggerating the conflict and puts the death toll at 10,000.

(ST)