The Arab League criticized the International Criminal Court's prosecutor Saturday for seeking the arrest of Sudan's president on genocide charges, saying diplomacy should be given a priority to solve the conflict in Darfur.
Arab foreign ministers, holding an emergency meeting in Cairo, said Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa would head to Khartoum on Sunday to inform the Sudanese leadership of a plan to defuse the crisis. Moussa said he would announce the details within two days.
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has asked the court for a warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on suspicion of masterminding crimes against humanity in his country's troubled Darfur region.
Moreno-Ocampo accused Bashir of running a campaign of genocide that killed 35,000 people outright, at least another 100,000 through a "slow death" and forced 2.5 million to flee their homes in Darfur.
A dangerous precedent
The final communiqué of the meeting said the ministers "called for giving the priority for political settlement ... and called for an international high-profile summit to push the political process in Darfur." Earlier in the day, Algeria urged other Arab nations to press the United Nations Security Council to prevent the ICC from issuing the arrest warrant for Bashir.
"What the prosecutor of the court has done is a dangerous precedent," Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci told his Arab counterparts.
"We have (to take) ... a strong stance in solidarity with our brothers in Sudan and move effectively with regional and international organizations and the ... states in the Security Council to immediately reconsider this demand by the prosecutor," he said, according to extracts of his speech.
Sudan has asked China and Russia, as well as the Arab League and the African Union, to help it pursue a U.N. Security Council resolution suspending a warrant for Bashir for 12 months.
Diplomats in New York say the Arab League and the AU's Peace and Security Council are expected to call on the Security Council to block any ICC moves in the interests of bringing peace to Darfur, devastated by the 5-year-old conflict.
Arab countries usually resent allegations of human rights violations in the region.
Analysts say Arab leaders are also concerned that failing to thwart the ICC move against Bashir may encourage more foreign intervention in their affairs.
Many Arabs and Muslims accuse Western powers of launching a war on their faith in the name of human rights while ignoring what they see as war crimes committed by Israel against the Palestinians and by U.S. troops in Iraq.
Khartoum has consistently rejected the ICC's jurisdiction, saying it would try alleged war criminals in its own courts, although credible trials have so far failed to materialize.
Sudan has refused to surrender two suspects named last year in connection with war crimes in Darfur and hopes to persuade veto-wielding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to defer any ICC prosecution of Beshir.
League chief Moussa and other Arab leaders have suggested that the ICC could not prosecute Beshir because he has immunity as a head of state, but Article 27 of the Rome Treaty specifically excludes that possibility.
The ICC "shall apply equally to all persons without any distinction based on official capacity. In particular, official capacity as a head of state... shall in no case exempt a person from criminal responsibility," it says.
The Darfur conflict broke out in 2003 when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated regime in Khartoum and state-backed militias.
The United Nations has said 300,000 people have died and more than 2.2 million have been displaced. Khartoum puts the number of dead at 10,000.