The International Criminal Court said Thursday it has not issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for crimes in Darfur, contrary to press reports that it had been issued, as a rebel leader said he should turn himself in.
"At this moment, there is no arrest warrant," ICC spokeswoman Laurence Blairon told AFP after the New York Times reported Wednesday that judges had decided to issue a warrant as requested last July by chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, sayinf an anouncement would be made when there was something to announce.
Khalil Ibrahim, head of the most active rebel group in Darfur, called in Doha on Thursday for Sudan's President Omar al-Beshir to give himself up to the International Criminal Court.
"I advise Beshir to turn himself in, voluntarily," the leader of the Justice and Equality Movement said, adding that he would welcome any arrest warrant for the Sudanese president.
"If Beshir does not turn himself in, no doubt, we will arrest him and hand him over to the international court," Ibrahim said from Doha, where peace talks were being held under the auspices of Qatar, the United Nations, African Union and the Arab League.
Quoting court lawyers and diplomats, the Times said precise charges cited by the judges against Bashir had not been disclosed, but a formal announcement was expected by the court in the coming days.
It quoted United Nations officials as saying the decision on the warrant was communicated to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, though this was denied by a U.N. spokeswoman.
"I can confirm that no decision has been received by the Secretary General. We do not anticipate receiving such communication and we do not normally receive such communication," U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.
And Japan's U.N. Ambassador Yukio Takasu, the president of the Security Council this month, said the council had not yet been informed.
Last year, chief ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo asked the court's judges to indict Bashir for orchestrating what he described as a campaign of genocide in Sudan's western Darfur region that killed at least 35,000 people in 2003 and at least 100,000 more through starvation and disease.
Khartoum rejects the term genocide and says 10,000 people died in the conflict. U.N. officials say at least 2.5 million were left homeless and put the death toll as high as 300,000.
Sudan has ruled out handing over Bashir and two other Sudanese citizens previously indicted by the court for suspected war crimes in Darfur. But Bashir's ability to travel outside Sudan will likely become difficult once an international arrest warrant is issued.
It was not immediately clear whether Bashir could be indicted on all 10 counts of genocide and other war crimes listed by the prosecutor or just some of them.
If the warrant is approved, this will be the first time the ICC has sought the detention of a sitting head of state since it opened its doors in 2002.
Cooperation with peacekeepers
Khartoum said it would continue cooperating with U.N. peacekeepers in Sudan even if Bashir is indicted, but has warned there may be widespread demonstrations of public outrage.
Sudan's foreign ministry said it had not received any notification from the Hague-based court which has not so far publicly announced a decision or given details of what charges President Bashir might face.
"We must wait for the announcement from the court," said Ali al-Sadig, spokesman for Sudan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Sudan's U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem, dismissed the decision of the court.
"It will mean nothing to us and doesn't deserve ink with which it is written," he told Reuters. "We will never be shaken by this criminal attempt to pollute our political life and sabotage our efforts for development and peace."
Some U.N. officials worry the Sudanese government might encourage reprisals against international peacekeepers. Ban said on Tuesday that Bashir and his government must "react very responsibly and ensure safety of (U.N.) peacekeepers."
The secretary-general met Bashir on the sidelines of an African Union summit in Addis Ababa last week.
U.N. officials said blue helmet peacekeepers in Darfur had no mandate to act on ICC arrest warrants in Sudan but would go about their business of protecting civilians there.
Time to shun Bashir
The Save Darfur Coalition, a group of 180 organizations and activist groups, issued a statement saying it was time for the world to shun Bashir.
"A regime led by an indicted war criminal cannot possibly be treated as a full member of the community of nations," it said. "The international community must press Sudanese authorities to comply with their obligations to cooperate with the ICC, including executing all outstanding warrants."
"At a minimum, countries should not allow him to travel to their territory and should limit diplomatic interaction with him in Khartoum to efforts to end the crisis in Darfur and bring peace to all of Sudan," the statement said.