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Amidst Pressure, Bashir to Avoid Ugandan Trip

According to a Ugandan government official, indicted Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir will not be traveling to Uganda to attend a regional conference after receiving mixed signals from the Ugandan government on his possible arrest.

The reported decision to drop the trip came after Uganda urged President Bashir through diplomatic channels not to come. A senior Ugandan foreign affairs official told reporters that Sudan will send a deputy official instead.

Uganda is caught between conflicting international obligations. As a signatory state to the International Criminal Court, Uganda is legally bound to arrest Mr. Bashir if given the opportunity.

But Uganda is also part of the African Union, which proclaimed earlier this month that member states would not cooperate with the al-Bashir arrest warrant.

This week, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was caught struggling to walk a diplomatic tightrope as conflicting reports flowed out regarding Mr. Bashir's possible arrest.

Uganda had formally invited the Sudanese president to attend the regional conference. But in a visit to Kampala this week, ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo reminded Uganda of its legal duty to honor the international indictment.

Ugandan international affairs minister then told reporters that Mr. Bashir would be arrested if he entered the country.

The Ugandan president has reportedly since called the wanted Sudanese leader to apologize for the minister's remarks. In a statement released by the Ugandan government to "clarify" its position, the nation took the seemingly at-odds stance of re-affirming its commitment to both the ICC's statutes and the AU's refusal to cooperate.

The AU has asked the ICC to put off the arrest warrant, citing concerns that it would hamper the Darfur peace process. The African body said it is deferring its full response to the indictment until a panel chaired by South African president Thabo Mbeki on the Sudanese situation finishes its investigation.

The indictment of the Sudanese leader is the first ever issued against a sitting head of state.

Uganda's unstable northern region borders southern Sudan, creating the potential for an ugly fallout between the two countries. President Bashir has supported the northern Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army rebel group in the past.

But it is highly unlikely the diplomatic row will lead to retaliatory action from the Sudanese leader, according to Fouad Hikmat, a regional analyst for the International Crisis Group. Hikmat asserted that Mr. Bashir is currently beset by too many political crises to spend his dwindling political capital reacting to relatively minor diplomatic snubs.

"I don't think Bashir at this moment is in a situation to retaliate against countries because he has got very serious problems internally, including the implementation of the [Comprehensive Peace Agreement], to try to find a solution to Darfur, and given now that there is a serious international momentum and engagement with Sudan. So I think this is the last thing the government in Sudan will partner to create a problem [about]," he said.

Sudanese officials have reportedly refused to comment on Mr. Bashir's travel plans.

ICC prosecutor Ocampo also came to Uganda to deliberate with President Museveni on the outstanding arrest warrant for the fugitive LRA rebel leader, Joseph Kony.