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Sudan's Bashir, Fresh Off Win, Visits Egypt

  • Elizabeth Arrott

Cairo continues to welcome Sudanese president, despite his being wanted by International Criminal Court on war crimes charges; trip widely seen as symbolic gesture between long-time allies

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir traveled Tuesday to Egypt, one day after official results showed him winning re-election in a controversial poll. Egypt continues to welcome Mr. Bashir, despite his being wanted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges.

The Sudanese leader met with President Hosni Mubarak in the Red Sea resort Sharm el-Sheikh, where the Egyptian president is recuperating from recent surgery. Egypt's state-run news agency reported the two men exchanged congratulations, Mr. Mubarak on Mr. Bashir's re-election, and Mr. Bashir on Mr. Mubarak's recovery.

The visit was widely seen as a symbolic gesture, a meeting of long-time allies. Both men have been in office more than 20 years. Perhaps more to the point, Egypt is one country where the Sudanese president remains welcome.

Cairo never signed onto the International Court and is under no obligation to arrest Mr. Bashir. The government has justified its continued close ties with the man accused of orchestrating alleged war crimes in Darfur on the basis of territorial integrity and stability in its southern neighbor, which it helped rule until the 1950's.

Ahmed al Ballal al-Taib, editor-in-chief of the Sudanese daily Akhbar al-Youm in Khartoum, said Egypt's high-profile support for Mr. Bashir helps set a precedent for other Arab nations to follow. Taib added that the 81-year-old Mr. Mubarak, whose continued role in Egyptian politics is in question, benefits by being seen with close regional allies.

Acknowledging this particular ally is problematic, Egypt has said it tries to balance international concerns with cooperation on Sudan and the fulfillment of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which culminates next year with a referendum on southern Sudanese independence.

The Egyptian state news agency said preserving the unity of Sudan was on the agenda of the two leaders' talks. In addition to the possibility of the referendum leading to conflict, the idea of a new country along the banks of the Nile is of considerable interest to Egypt.

Mr. Mubarak and Mr. Bashir find themselves at odds with leaders of other nations along the river. Known as the riparian states, most want a new framework to share the use of Nile waters. Talks last week in Sharm el-Sheikh ended in a stalemate. If southern Sudan were to become its own country, it is widely expected to want a treaty, too.

Editor al-Taib said the water issue could ignite a wider conflict, especially with Ethiopia, which is leading the drive for a separate treaty. He said tension would be negatively reflected in the whole region, which he describes as "very disturbed," with "lots of time bombs and fuel barrels ready to explode."