The International Criminal Court has denied media reports the court's judges have agreed to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omar al Bashir. 

According to The New York Times newspaper and the Reuters news agency, diplomats at the United Nations have said International Criminal Court judges have approved an arrest warrant for Sudan President Omar al-Bashir.

But the ICC has issued a statement saying that no warrant has been issued and the judges have not made a decision.  An official announcement is expected sometime in February.

The ICC chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, is seeking to charge President al-Bashir with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide for the Sudanese government's role in the conflict in the western region of Darfur.  The reports did not say which charges the judges had agreed to.

Meanwhile, negotiations continue in Qatar between the Justice and Equality Movement and the government of Sudan.  JEM-leader Khalil Ibrahim joined the negotiations for the first time Wednesday.  JEM officials have said the talks are focusing on confidence-building measures.

Sudanese opposition welcomes arrest warrant

A representative of the Justice and Equality Movement, Abdullah El-Tom, says the group would welcome the announcement of an arrest warrant for President al-Bashir, but that it is waiting for an official announcement.

"JEM would certainly welcome that and celebrate that kind of decision if it comes out.  But until now it is media reports," said El-Tom.

U.N. and humanitarian officials have expressed concern that a warrant for President al-Bashir's arrest could lead to retaliation against their representatives in Sudan.  U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, told a news conference on Tuesday that he had brought up the concern in a meeting with President al-Bashir in Ethiopia during the weekend.

"Whatever the circumstances or decision of the ICC may be it will be very important for President Bashir and the Sudanese government to react very responsibly and ensure safety and security of United Nations peacekeepers and protect the human rights of all the populations. And he should fully cooperate with whatever decision the ICC makes," said Ban.

A spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Noureddine Mezni, told VOA that the force already has been operating at a heightened security level since last summer.

The African Union, the Arab League, and China have all called for the request for the arrest warrant to be delayed for a year.  But it is not clear how far such countries would go to support Sudan's president were a warrant issued.

At least 200,000 people have been killed in the Darfur conflict since 2003, according to most international estimates, and more than 2.5 million people have been displaced.