World powers should heed the worries of African and Arab states in responding to genocide charges against Sudan's president, China's envoy on Darfur said, warning that the court steps could imperil peace efforts.
Liu Guijin, Beijing's envoy for the ravaged region of western Sudan, said on Friday the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor's application for the arrest of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir could threaten deployment of peacekeepers and hopes for fresh negotiations in Darfur.
Judicial moves should not upstage the other efforts, he said.
"The United Nations is using these different measures, and it should ensure its own priorities, and the use of one measure should not undermine the other measures," Liu told a small group of reporters. "Don't send wrong or chaotic signals," he added.
The veteran Africa diplomat's comments were China's first lengthy public response to the announcement on Monday by ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo that he wants Bashir tried for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
They were also the clearest signal yet that China might back a U.N. Security Council resolution suspending the ICC case.
The renewed attention on Darfur comes as Beijing readies for the Olympic Games in August, when its arms and oil ties with Sudan will come under a blaze of global attention.
Moreno-Ocampo accused Bashir of a campaign of genocide that killed 35,000 people outright, at least another 100,000 through "slow death" and forced 2.5 million to flee their homes.
China and other governments have said indicting Bashir could unleash a rash of complications in Darfur, a tribally mixed region where government-backed militia have fought rebels against Khartoum's rule for five years.
Human rights groups critical of Bashir have called the case a blow for justice that could force Sudan to seek peace in Darfur.
Sudan has asked Russia, China and members of the Arab League and the African Union to seek a Security Council decision suspending the court action against Bashir for 12 months.
Diplomats at the United Nations say the Arab League and the AU's Peace and Security Council are in coming days likely to urge the Security Council take the blocking action.
Liu did not directly say whether China would propose or support such a suspension, but he stressed the major powers should listen to African and Arab states.
"We want to see more of the further plans of the AU and Arab League, and then use the channel of the U.N. Security Council or other appropriate channels to ensure the development of the situation does not affect resolving the Darfur issue," he said.
China in Darfur
Beijing has sought to show itself as a helpful force in Darfur, coaxing Bashir to accept a joint United Nations-African Union mission that took over peacekeeping in Darfur in January.
But China also sells many weapons to Khartoum and is a major investor in Sudanese oil, and critics say self-interest has led Beijing to shield Bashir's government from pressure over Darfur.
"China seems far more concerned with protecting al-Bashir than inspecting, and adjusting, its own economic, military and diplomatic support of a regime now charged with genocide," said Isaac Shapiro of the U.S.-based Save Darfur Coalition, which supports the prosecution of Bashir.
Western critics and media have "distorted" views of his country's normal ties with Khartoum, including controlled sales of weapons, Liu said, adding that the Beijing Olympics in August should not become a target for protests over Darfur.
"The Olympic Games are not an appropriate setting for resolving all the world's problems, including Darfur," Liu said. He would not say whether Bashir would attend the Games.
China this week sent 172 military engineers to Darfur, bringing all of its 315 promised peacekeepers into place.
The U.N.-AU mission force has struggled to establish control in Darfur, and since last week eight of its troops have died in attacks. With 9,500 people in Sudan, it is far below its planned full strength of 26,000.