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AU Official Criticizes Charges For Sudan Leader

Algeria's former president, who heads an African Union "panel of the wise" has expressed concern about the decision by the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor to seek an arrest warrant for Sudan's president. As Derek Kilner reports from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi, Ahmed Ben Bella is the latest Arab leader to question the charges against President Omar al-Bashir ahead of an Arab League summit on the issue this weekend.

Ahmed Ben Bella, who served as Algeria's first president following independence from 1963 to 1965, warned of the "dangers" of an indictment of Sudan's president by the International Criminal Court, or ICC, saying it could lead to an "unconstitutional" removal of the government in Sudan.

Ben Bella heads the African Union's "Panel of the Wise", a group of five former African officials representing the continent's five regions on conflict prevention issues. He made the statement from the AU's headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The ICC's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, is seeking an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, for his role in the government's policies in the Darfur region of western Sudan, where a conflict with rebel groups has killed an estimated 200 to 300-thousand people since 2003.

Syria's foreign minister also criticized the effort to pursue al-Bashir. Meeting with Sudan's ambassador in Damascus, he said the prosecutor's actions would destabilize Sudan and obstruct peace efforts.

Meanwhile demonstrations continued in the capital, Khartoum. Alfred Taban, editor of the English-language Khartoum Monitor, said Thursday's protests were organized by supporters of the president from Darfur.

"Well, they were denouncing Ocampo and saying he is doing a political act against the government, and so on, the normal things. It's against the peace process in Darfur, and denunciation also of America being behind Ocampo and so forth," he said.

Taban said there have been at least five other protests in Khartoum against the ICC's actions in recent days, organized by the government.

United Nations operations in Khartoum and in Darfur remained at an elevated security level. A Nigerian peacekeeper from the joint U.N.-A.U. force was shot and killed late Wednesday while on a patrol in West Darfur. The attacker has not been identified.

The incident follows the killing of seven peacekeepers in an ambush in North Darfur last week. Timothy Othieno, a research fellow at the Overseas Development Institute in London, says the peacekeeping mission is overwhelmed.

"You only have 10,000 peacekeepers on the ground, which is not even half of what UNAMID was initially instructed to constitute. Darfur is a vast region, the size of France as we all know. And the challenge is, you're not going to monitor a territory of that size without adequate capacity, both human and military," he said.

The UN has temporarily redeployed nonessential staff from Darfur. Peacekeeping patrols, however, are continuing as normal.