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Mbeki Says AU Panel on Darfur To Meet ICC Prosecutor

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki and his high-level African Union panel on Darfur are planning to meet the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to discuss the indictment of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir.

Mr. Mbeki, who recently completed a fact-finding visit to Darfur and the surrounding region, says his eight-member African panel will meet ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo to discuss reconciling demands for justice in Darfur with the need to heal the wounds inflicted by six years of civil war.

"We have to meet him in the context of the work we are doing, which includes this element of justice, in terms of the mandate we are given by the AU, so we've got to meet him in the context of that," said Mr. Mbeki.

African heads of state created the Mbeki panel at their last summit in February, after it became clear the Hague-based international court would issue an arrest warrant for Sudan's president al-Bashir on war crimes charges. Summit leaders are on record as opposing the indictments, and several African nations that signed the Rome statute creating the court have threatened to withdraw unless the indictments are deferred.

Mr. Mbeki says he has been in contact with prosecutor Moreno Ocampo, and they agreed to meet sometime in the next couple months. He said the meeting is important because the panel and the prosecutor share a common objective.

"He is interested in a solution of the problem in Darfur. That is in black and white, and because we are pursuing the same goal, it would be important that we should meet to see what we can do to produce that outcome," Mr. Mbeki said.

Mr. Mbeki's visit to the region - he called it a listening tour - took him to camps for the hundreds of thousands of displaced Darfuris, many of whom have been living for up to six years in camps, both in Darfur and in neighboring Chad. The former South African leader said people he spoke to emphasized the need for improved relations between Chad and Sudan. Both countries accuse the other of supporting rebels opposed to their governments.

"People are identifying what they believe are critical matters that need to be addressed in order to bring about peace," Mr. Mbeki said. "For instance, a strong view that it's critically important that relations between Sudan and Chad governments, that those relations should be normalized. If that does not happen, then it's going to it's going to be very difficult to find a solution to the Chadian problem."

Mr. Mbeki is joined on the panel by two other former heads of state, Burundi's Pierre Buyoya and Nigeria's Abdulsalami Abubakar. They are due to submit a report on their findings at the next African Union summit in July.

The civil war Darfur is believed to have claimed as many as 200,000 lives in its early days in 2003 and 2004, when there were reports of government backed janjaweed militias roaming the vast region on camels, burning villages in a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

United Nations figures indicate that over the past four years, the violence has been reduced to a low-intensity conflict, with a death toll averaging about 150 people a month.

Sudan disputes reports of massacres in the early years of the war, and puts the total number of dead at around 10,000.