From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Mon Mar 02 2009 - 06:20:04 EST
Sudan faces 'a whole new reality'
Will anticipated war crimes arrest warrant for president lead to reform or
Mar 02, 2009 04:30 AM
LOS ANGELES TIMES
KHARTOUM - The billboard in downtown Khartoum delivers a not-so-subtle
message to passing cars: "A real Sudanese never stands against a president
during his time of need," reads the text, under a picture of a smiling
President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir.
As if anyone in this Sudanese capital needed reminding, an arrest warrant on
genocide charges is expected to be issued against Bashir on Wednesday by the
International Criminal Court, a case that threatens to send the country down
a path of uncertainty and instability.
Many hope that the war-crimes case stemming from Bashir's handling of the
Darfur conflict in western Sudan will prod the hard-nosed regime into making
reforms and ending the six-year war.
But officials and analysts worry that the case could instead push the ruling
party into a more antagonistic, isolationist stance, or even ignite another
"This is a whole new reality," said Fouad Hikmat, the Horn of Africa
director at the International Crisis Group. "It's anybody's guess what
The warrant is only the latest dark cloud emerging in what some see as a
perfect storm brewing against Sudan's Islamist-led ruling party, which
seized power in a 1989 coup.
National elections later this year will test the party's popular support and
could unravel a fragile power-sharing agreement it forged with southern
rebels. A newly elected U.S. president has filled his administration with
advisers who advocate a get-tough stance toward Sudan. Falling oil prices
threaten the once-thriving economy.
"This is going to be a decisive year for Sudan - one that could determine
whether the country will survive or not," said Hayder Ibrahim, founder of
the Center for Sudanese Studies, an independent think-tank in Khartoum.
The ICC case arose from the government's counter-insurgency campaign in
Darfur, where prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has accused Bashir of
supervising a genocidal plot to wipe out certain tribes. Private militias
allegedly funded by the government killed 35,000 people and led to the
deaths of at least 100,000 others from hunger and disease, according to the
Government officials deny genocide has taken place and accuse Western
nations, chiefly the U.S., of using the ICC to topple an oil-rich Islamic
republic with a history of opposing U.S. policy in Africa and the Middle
East. "The ICC is targeting Sudan because Sudan is a very rich country,"
Sudanese presidential adviser Ali Tamim Fartak said.
How the government responds to the arrest warrant, as well as the
international reaction, will be crucial to Sudan's future, experts say.
So far, the official government response has ranged from dismissing the case
as inconsequential to warning it will increase violence in Darfur and spur
attacks against Westerners in Khartoum. In February, Sudan's intelligence
chief, Salah Gosh, said the case might trigger a rise in Islamic extremism.
Diplomats and UN officials in Sudan say the government's next move is
unclear, but leaders appear to be leaving all options open.
Some anti-government activists expressed mixed feelings about the ICC case,
which is viewed by many Sudanese as a challenge to the country's
"I dream about getting rid of the government, but it should come through
internal movement, not from the ICC," human rights activist Azhari Alhaj
said. "Having the ICC come in at this sensitive time could have a negative
impact because we are going to be seen as working for the ICC. We are the
ones who are going to suffer, and no one in the international community is
going to protect us."
In its lobbying campaign against the ICC, the government has been portraying
the case as a recolonization of Sudan and Africa.
But U.S. officials say that Sudan's ruling party is already debating whether
its president has become a liability. There are rumours that some of
Bashir's political backers are angling to replace him.
John Prendergast, an anti-genocide activist and an adviser to U.S. President
Barack Obama's administration, said the ruling party has a history of doing
what needs to be done to survive. "They are going to have a serious debate
about whether the interests of the ruling party are best served by having
(an accused) war criminal as president."
In return for replacing Bashir or agreeing to reforms, U.S. officials are
prepared to allow the ICC case to be deferred. But some warn that such a
strategy is fraught with risk. Former U.S. envoy to Sudan Andrew Natsios
questioned whether Sudan's ruling clique will respond to outside pressure.
"We are assuming that they will become more rational," he said. "But they
become more inflexible, more confrontational and more brutal, the more they
He warned that the ICC arrest warrant might trigger the collapse of the
regime or a return to war.
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