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Sudan President Begins Darfur Tour After ICC Ruling

Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, has begun a visit to the country's western Darfur region. As Derek Kilner reports from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi, the trip comes as the Sudanese government is attempting to rally international support for rejecting an effort by the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor to bring charges against President al-Bashir.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir began his trip in El Fasher, the capital of north Darfur, where he danced and addressed a rally of thousands. He pledged support for peace in Darfur but said Sudanese could only achieve such peace themselves.

The president's trip will also take him to the capitals of Darfur's two other provinces, Nyala in South Darfur and El Genaina in the west.

The president will visit development projects sponsored by the government and meet with local government administrators.

The trip also appears designed to bolster an image of positive engagement in Darfur, as the International Criminal Court considers whether to indict President al-Bashir for crimes committed in the region.

An advisor to president Bashir, Bona Malwal, currently on a visit to the Kenyan capital Nairobi, said the Sudanese government continues to reject any possibility of cooperating with the court.

"Under no circumstances will President Bashir or Sudan negotiate the handing over of any Sudanese citizens. You know president Bashir is the president for all the Sudanese. He has a jurisdiction over all the Sudanese including the system of legal administration. The Sudanese courts are competent. If anybody has a complaint against any Sudanese he only needs to present his complaint to the Sudanese court," he said.

He said the people of Darfur share the government's opposition to an international indictment.

"I know that the people of Darfur support their president. More than supporting the president as a person, the people of Darfur support their independence and their sovereignty as a country, as a people," added Malwal.

But Darfur's rebel groups reject that claim. Ibrahim Beng, deputy chairman of a breakaway faction of the Justice and Equality Movement led by Idris Azraq, says public rallies in Darfur are not an accurate indication of support for President Bashir.

"He just tries now to fool some people to state that he has some support in Darfur. But actually he doesn't have any support and they force people to come out and welcome him now. And everybody not come out, he's going to sack him from his job or his school," said Beng.

While Darfur's rebels have applauded the move to indict the president, the former rebels in South Sudan, who are sharing power with president Bashir's party in a coalition government following a 2005 peace agreement, have expressed caution.

On a visit to the Ugandan capital Kampala Wednesday, south Sudan's president Salva Kiir said the court should hold off on an indictment of President Bashir, so as to avoid difficulties with the peace agreement. National elections are scheduled for next year, followed by a referendum on southern secession in 2011, and there are fears that an ICC indictment, would make the government less likely to cooperate.

The African Union's Peace and Security Council, has also called for the U.N. Security Council to seek a suspension of the request for an arrest warrant. And the Arab League has expressed concern with the possibility of an indictment.

The ICC's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo is seeking an arrest warrant for President Bashir on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide for the government's policies in Darfur.

The U.N. estimates that between 200,000-300,000 people have died in the conflict and some 2.5 million displaced by conflict in Darfur since 2003. The Sudanese government says no more than 10,000 have been killed