Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has returned to Darfur, in another show of defiance to the international court seeking his arrest for alleged war crimes in the region.
The Sudanese president addressed thousands of supporters Wednesday in the southern Darfur town of Nyala.
Waving his cane at times, Mr. Bashir denounced Western countries for allegedly trying to divide Sudan, and vowed the International Criminal Court would never touch him.
He also called for Darfur rebels to lay down their arms, saying the government is working on a series of development projects in the region.
This is Mr. Bashir's second visit to Darfur since the court issued a warrant for his arrest two weeks ago.
Prosecutors accuse him of masterminding a campaign of rape, murder and other crimes against civilians in Darfur, where his government has been fighting rebels since 2003.
Soon after the court's action, Sudan said it would expel 13 foreign aid groups active in Darfur. On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Mr. Bashir would be held responsible for every death caused by that decision.
Also Tuesday, the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur said unknown gunmen had killed a soldier near Nyala.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon later said he deeply regrets the death and is concerned about security threats to the peacekeeping mission.
The attack near Nyala was the second time this month unknown gunmen have ambushed peacekeepers in Darfur.
The United Nations says the fighting and related violence in Darfur has killed more than 200,000 people, and displaced more than 2.5 million others. Sudan says the death toll is around 10,000.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters