Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has received a warm welcome on his arrival in neighboring Ethiopia for a two-day state visit. VOA's Peter Heinlein in Addis Ababa reports Ethiopian and other African officials greeted Mr. Bashir with full honors, while most western diplomats are boycotting the event.
Reporters were kept away from airport ceremonies where Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi welcomed Mr. Bashir for a meeting of the Ethiopia-Sudan High Level Joint Commission.
Sudan and Ethiopia share a 3,000 kilometer long border, and the two delegations are discussing a variety of political, security and economic issues.
US, EU are not attending event
An unofficial count showed about 20 of the more than 50 African ambassadors in Addis Ababa showed up for the welcome ceremonies, along with envoys from China, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela. But the United States, the European Union and most other countries boycotted the event. The boycott extends to a lavish state dinner hosted by Ethiopia's president.
'Ironic show of solidarity'
One African ambassador at the airport described the turnout as "an ironic show of solidarity" for a man facing war crimes charges. The envoy, who asked not to be named, said it is ironic because many Africa leaders fear that if President Bashir can be prosecuted, they could be next.
Hundreds of Sudanese living in Ethiopia also came out to greet their president. A Sudanese businessman who gave his name only as Hassan questioned the timing of the ICC arrest warrants, saying they had come just when the Darfur peace process seemed to be bearing fruit.
"This is not even the reasonable time to arrange this prosecution, because we are Sudanese we are suffering to reach peace. ... because Sudan they named the heart of Africa," Hassan said. "That means if there is a conflict or there is war in Sudan, that means all of Africa is hurt, from Egypt in the north to South Africa in the south. ... Why do not they wait for a few short months, the Darfur problem definitely will be solved?"
Indictments have not hampered Bashir's travels
The Sudanese leader has visited Egypt, Eritrea, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia since the ICC indictments were handed down in March. None are members of the Hague-based International Criminal Court.
More than 30 of Africa's 50-plus countries are members of the ICC. But African leaders at their last summit, unanimously expressed solidarity with President Bashir and called for the U.N. Security Council to suspend the Bashir indictments. A meeting of the African ICC members is expected before the next summit in June to discuss a proposal to withdraw en masse unless the indictment is suspended.
Nevertheless, ICC Prosecutor Moreno Ocampo this month expressed confidence the Sudanese leader would face justice. Mr. Bashir is the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the ICC, which was created by the Rome Statute in 2002.