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IGAD Summit Postponed Amid Controversy Surrounding Bashir Attendance

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir delivers a speech during his swearing-in ceremony at the parliament in Khartoum, 27 May 2010
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir delivers a speech during his swearing-in ceremony at the parliament in Khartoum, 27 May 2010

After intense pressure from the international community, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development has postponed a summit originally scheduled to be held Saturday in Nairobi. When the public learned Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir would be in attendance, civil society groups from Kenya sent President Mwai Kibaki a letter demanding that Mr. Bashir not be invited.

The pressure on Kenya was increased after the Pre-Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court issued a ruling Monday asking Kenya to arrest the Sudanese leader.

Late Wednesday, it was revealed that IGAD had moved the Summit to Ethiopia, taking the pressure off of Kenya. But according to Kenyan Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs, Richard Onyonka, the meeting has now been delayed indefinitely.

"The IGAD meeting has just been postponed because of the fact that Ethiopia felt that they were not ready for it for the simple reason that they wanted the meeting to be held in Kenya. It really does not have anything to do with al-Bashir being arrested or not," he said.

Onyonka says the meeting was to be rescheduled, and would likely take place in Kenya after all.

Omar al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed in the Darfur region of Sudan. He is the first sitting president to be indicted by the court.

This is not the first time Kenya has faced criticism for hosting Mr. Bashir. In late August, Kenya stunned the international community by including the Sudanese leader in a ceremony to promulgate its new constitution.

But according to Onyonka, including Bashir in the summit has more to do with regional stability than international obligation.

"I do not believe that there would be a problem, in so far as the issue of al Bashir," he said. "The general feeling within government is that the meeting should be held so that we can continue engaging with the Sudanese government - both the north and the south - with the basic agenda that the referendum should be proceeded with and results should be accepted."

The ICC ruling also asks Kenya to clarify any conflict obligations that would prevent them from arresting President Bashir by October 29. In the past Kenya has stated it would follow the July African Union ruling that discourages members from executing Mr. Bashir's arrest warrants. Onyonka said Kenya would honor "whatever the ICC requires."