The Sudanese government on Sunday issued a strongly worded statement after president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir was forced to cancel his attendance at the 3rd Africa-European Union (EU) summit that starts Monday in the Libyan capital. Yesterday, the former South African president Thabo Mbeki who also heads an African Union panel on Sudan told reporters on Saturday that Bashir will leave for Libya in order to participate in the summit. But the Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa today surprisingly revealed that they have asked Bashir to skip the summit despite inviting him last July. “We have asked President al-Bashir not to attend the EU-African summit because of the tremendous efforts exerted by Libya to host the summit and not to ruin it because of the Europeans threat not to attend if President al-Bashir showed,” Koussa told the Associated Press (AP) in an interview.
Bashir was indicted in March 2009 for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, and in July 2010 on charges of genocide, linked to atrocities committed by Khartoum’s forces in Darfur. Many officials around the world including ones from the EU have avoided appearing with the Sudanese president after the warrants. It is not clear if Bashir will participate in the AU Peace and Security Council meeting to be held in Libya next week.
A Spanish official had earlier told AP that the 27 members of the EU had agreed to stand up and walk out if the Sudanese president appeared at the joint summit. The pragmatic and unusual stance by Libya, a strong backer of Bashir, caused an uproar in Khartoum where the government directed explicit criticism at the EU and subtle one at the host of the summit. “Three days before the summit taking place a senior Libyan official contacted the Minister of the Presidency [Bakri Hassan Salih] to convey European reservations about the participation of Mr. President at the summit” the Sudanese presidency said in a statement released late Sunday. ”
The Minister of the Presidency communicated to the Libyan official the decision of the Government of Sudan to participate in the summit at the presidential level as long as Libya has formally invited him and as long as such participation comes within the framework of Sudan’s membership in the African Union [which is] the core party in this summit and that Sudan is not concerned with any position taken by the EU side”. “At the same day of the scheduled travel by Mr. President to participate in the summit, the Minister in charge of the Presidency received a call from the senior Libyan official saying that Libya welcomes Mr. President on 30/11/2010 which is after the end of the summit of the Africa-EU summit”.
The Libya Press news agency, an outlet affiliated with a son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, said that civil aviation authorities in Libya were reluctant to grant Bashir’s plane clearance to fly in to the country “for technical reasons” prompting a cancellation by Khartoum. Earlier today, the Sudanese foreign minister Ali Karti arrived in Tripoli for the ministerial level meeting of the summit. Halfway into the meeting he received instructions to head back home. “Bashir will not attend” the summit being held in Tripoli on Monday and Tuesday, Karti said. “We are therefore pulling out and will not be represented at any level,” he told reporters following a meeting of African foreign ministers preparing for the summit. The minister, who walked out of the closed-door meeting after announcing Khartoum’s decision, added that Bashir’s no-show was “to avoid embarrassment to Libya,” which is hosting the gathering of 80 nations.
The Sudanese top diplomat said the decision was taken “under pressure from Europe” and that he had received instructions to pull out of the pre-summit ministerial talks. African Union commission president Jean Ping said at the close of the talks that the Sudanese minister had been “absolutely limpid and clear”. “He deplored certain attitudes and notified us that President Bashir will not come” Ping added. EU diplomats told Agence France Presse (AFP) in the weeks leading up to the summit that they had asked for assurances that Bashir would not attend. But reports on Saturday that he planned to fly to Tripoli caused a diplomatic flurry on both continents. The Sudanese presidency chided the EU accusing the bloc of hypocrisy for urging Bashir to implement Sudan’s 2005 north-south peace accord while at the same time trying to “undermine” his legitimacy. It also threatened unspecified measures in response “to preserve its rights and sovereignty”. “Sudan considers the EU position on the president’s participation in this summit as representative of the colonial mentality with which Europe still views Africa. Europe’s stance was “an attack on the African Union and Sudan while also undermining the idea of real dialogue and cooperation between Africa and Europe”.
A similar incident occurred last year when France decided to move the France-Africa summit from Egypt to prevent the Sudanese leader from attending. Cairo had insisted on allowing Bashir to take part. Reuters said that Sudan is likely to be disappointed that Libya, a supposed ally, did not take a stand similar to Egypt’s. Libya was one of the first states to receive Bashir after the warrant for him was issued. It called the ICC a tool of international terrorism. But Libyan-Sudanese relations have been tense since Tripoli agreed to host Darfur rebel leader Khalil Ibrahim despite Sudan’s request that Tripoli expel him. Libya itself was ostracized by the West for decades over accusations that it sought weapons of mass destruction and had ties to violent militant groups. Gaddafi later renounced such policies and sanctions were lifted.