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Sudan's President Heads Abroad With International Warrant Pending

Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir is set to arrive in Istanbul for a summit meeting on African Turkish economic cooperation. The trip is President Bashir's first outside of Sudan since the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor requested an arrest warrant for him in July. Derek Kilner has more from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi.

President Omar al-Bashir is leading Sudan's delegation to the first Turkey-Africa Cooperation Summit, which will feature delegations from 50 African nations, including seven heads of state.

The Sudanese president appears unconcerned about the impending request for an arrest warrant. The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor is seeking charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, for President Bashir's role in the conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region.

The court's panel of judges returned from recess on Monday. But while the court's judges have always approved previous requests for arrest warrants, they are not expected to make a decision for several weeks,meaning the prospect of a warrant being issued while President Bashir is in Turkey is unlikely. Turkey, like Sudan, is not a member of the International Criminal Court, or ICC.

The Sudanese government has repeatedly rejected any cooperation with the court, and has said its justice system is equipped to handle trials for those accused of crimes in Darfur.

So far neither of the two Sudanese citizens wanted by the ICC have been charged in Sudan. But the Sudanese courts have been hearing cases against rebels who attacked the outskirts of the Sudanese capital in May.

On Sunday, a court sentenced eight rebels to death, including Abdul Aziz Ashur the half brother of Khalil Ibrahim, who is the leader of the Justice and Equality Movement, which carried out the offensive on Omdurman. 38 rebels have now been sentenced to death for the May 10 attacks, which killed over 220 people.

Verdicts for 20 other suspected rebels are expected on Wednesday. Sudanese authorities are thought to have detained hundreds of Darfurians in the aftermath of the attack. Human rights groups say many continue to be held without charge.

Meanwhile, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur, known by the acronym UNAMID, said that the Sudanese government has agreed to allow nighttime flights, following the monthly meeting between UNAMID and the government.

UNAMID spokesman Noureddine Mezni said the U.N. had highlighted the importance of allowing airports in Darfur to operate 24 hours a day. The Sudanese government has previously said the airports are not equipped to operate at night, and the U.N. mission had complained that this was hampering its ability to operate in the region.

"We have told the Sudanese side that we are ready to assist in upgrading these airports, taking the different measures and arrangements to make these airport operational 24 hours in the three states," Mezni said. "And as a matter of fact they agreed on that and we are waiting on the issue with the Civil Aviation Authority"

The recent arrival of troops from Egypt and Ethiopia have raised the mission's forces to nearly 11,000. But this remains well below the planned 26,000-strong deployment.

According to international estimates, between 200,000 and 300,000 people have been killed in the Darfur conflict since 2003, and some 2.5 million displaced. The Sudanese government says no more than 10,000 have been killed.