Altough he faces a possible international arrest warrant for allegedly masterminding genocide in Darfur, Omar al-Bashir (photo), the president of Sudan, has arrived in the troubled province for a visit. The two-day trip will take him to the three state capitals in the region : El Fasher in the north, Nyala in the south and El Geneina in the west.
A number of government officials and journalists accompany him on the trip.
The Sudanese president is accused by Luis Moreno-Ocampo, an International Criminal Court prosecutor, of instructing his forces to annihilate three non-Arab groups in Darfur, masterminding murder, torture, pillaging and using rape in order to commit genocide.
Mr Bashir has been quoted by state media as reitaring to Arab lawyers on Monday that any outside interference, “blackmail and pressure”, are rejected by Sudan, and vowed again never to surrender any citizen to the international community.
Though Sudanese officials refused to comment on the purpose or the timing of the Darfur tour, analysts predicted the move was part of Sudan’s intense diplomatic offensive to stave off potential ICC charges.
Poorly manned and equipped
The president’s office indicated that at each stop al-Bashir is scheduled to address popular ceremonies organised in his honour, as well as hold talks with state government officials, local leaders and political party representatives.
In El Fasher, the old capital of Darfur and headquarters for a poorly manned and equipped UN-led peacekeeping mission, president Bashir has been greeted by civil servants, tribesmen, students, men on camels and horses. They condemned the war-crimes charges against him and pledgied allegiance.
Omar al-Bashir danced to nationalist music, jabbing the air with his walking stick.
“What Ocampo said about Darfur is lies … We have to find a solution to the Darfur crisis”, he said.
“I came here to Darfur to say one thing. That every IDP must return back to their village and then the government must supply social services.”
‘New Sudan-led peace’
From El-Fasher, al-Bashir will proceed to Nyala, where he will inaugurate development projects and visit a water station. On Thursday, he will fly on to El Geneina, not far from the Chadian border, before returning to Khartoum, the Sudanese capital.
Mr Bashir hopes to achieve a lot with the visit, said Mohammed Adow, Al Jazeera’s correspondent reporting from El Fasher.
“He is here to launch what he calls a new Sudan-led peace process, for the settlement of the Darfur conflict once and for all”, he said.
“He is also here to oversee a process in which a thousand families who have been living in IDP (internally displaced persons) camps are voluntarily returning home. They say they are confident enough to return home and the president will be [highlighting] that.”
“He will also meet tribal leaders involved in the conflict here.”
Beaten up by soldiers
President Bashir is also expected to be greeted by members of those groups, the Fur Masalit and Zaghawa. Some of them belong to Mr Bashir’s National Congress Party.
Since the conflict in Darfur broke out in February 2003, up to 300 000 people have died and more than 2.2 million have fled their home, according to the UN. 10 000 have been killed, says Sudan.
The war started when African ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government and state-backed Arab militias, fighting for resources and power in one of the most remote and deprived places on earth.
Before president Bashir arrived in El Fasher, the peacekeeping mission in Darfur announced that a UN security officer was undergoing hospital treatment after being beaten up by Sudanese government soldiers, who forcibly took him to a military base.
The joint African Union-UN mission said that when the incident happened, the officer began taking pictures of a place in El Fasher market in order to investigate a road accident involving a UN staff member, a military vehicle and a taxi.