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Paris May Support a Freeze of ICC Indictment of Sudan President Bashir

A possible International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant against Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir took another turn after French President Nicholas Sarkozy reportedly said Paris might support freezing the indictment. President Sarkozy reportedly told the United Nations General Assembly yesterday (Tuesday) that his country would support freezing the possible ICC indictment if Khartoum radically changes its policies over the troubled Darfur region. This comes after the ICC chief prosecutor Louis Moreno Ocampo seeks support from the United Nations and the African Union to put Sudan's President on trial for war crimes.

There is, however, a growing debate at the United Nations over whether the Security Council should defer the Sudan probe. Fouead Hikmat is the project director for the Horn of Africa of the International Crisis group. He tells reporter Peter Clottey from the Sudanese capital, Khartoum that it was about time that Sudan's government changes its approach on the Darfur crisis.

"I think starting with a working assumption here in response to what President Sarkozy said today, I think the assumption is that the government of Sudan and in particular the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) that it needs radical change by first of all to agree to engage with the International Criminal Court, which is very, very important, otherwise if they do refuse to engage the International Criminal Court then there is no foundation for a radical change as far as the policies regarding the settlement in Darfur," Hikmat noted.

He said Paris' announcement should be a catalyst for the ruling party to change its stance on the Darfur crisis.

"I could understand that if we unpack the question of President Sarkozy, it means that first of all the NCP should accept and engage the International Criminal Court, that is to respond legally to it and in other words to try to create the conditions for a sustainable settlement of the conflict of Darfur, which then creates an argument to invoke article 16," he said.

Article 16 of the International Criminal Court's statute permits the United Nations Security Council to freeze ICC indictments for up to one year.

Hikmat said the Darfur crisis and its ensuing controversy about a possible indictment of Sudan's President Bashir is a complicated issue to deal with.

"I don't think it is a very straight forward issue like that because the issues are complex. And I always do believe that when problems are complex you can't solve them by simple solutions. By definition, I think the solutions have to be complex so that they can address the multiple layers and the multiple factors make that problem," Hikmat pointed out.

He said there was a need for enthusiasm and confidence building measures among all the stakeholders in the Darfur crisis.

"At the moment if the two parties are to negotiate and find a settlement to the problem of Darfur, this means that there has to be genuine willingness from the government and the rebel groups to sit round the table and to start to negotiate. Now, what constitutes that willingness because I don't think the situation now in Sudan is about the simple willingness just to express your willingness to say that I would like to sit with others and I'm willing to. Unfortunately, the deep mistrust that is there among all the parties… that would first have to be operationalized through positive mechanisms," he said.

Hikmat said if Khartoum is able to avoid possible ICC indictment it would bode well for the entire Horn of African region.

"I wish the government would be able to succeed in doing so because that would avert serious consequences to Sudan and also to the region because the issue at hand is stability within Sudan and also the regional stability," Hikmat noted.