By Daniel Bases
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Sudan has warned the United Nations of “serious consequences” for its staff and facilities if the International Criminal Court issues an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir over Darfur, a U.N. envoy said on Monday.
Addressing the U.N. Security Council, Ashraf Qazi, head of the U.N. mission charged with monitoring a 2005 peace accord between Sudan’s north and south, said the mission was preparing for any such actions.
“The government has conveyed to me that the issuance of an arrest warrant against President Bashir could have serious consequences for U.N. staff and infrastructure in Sudan,” Qazi said, without specifying where the threat might come from.
“We are taking all necessary precautionary measures including strengthening our cooperation with Sudanese security institutions,” Qazi said.
On July 14, ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo charged Bashir with masterminding a campaign of genocide in Darfur, western Sudan, and asked the court for the warrant. The Hague-based court has yet to issue a decision.
Khartoum has acknowledged the distinction between the ICC and the mandate of the two peacekeeping missions in Sudan, Qazi said. However he noted the Bashir government had called the ICC prosecutor’s action a political and not a legal move.
The missions in Sudan are UNMIS, a 10,000-strong U.N. force that aims to ensure the north and south comply with the 2005 peace deal that ended two decades of civil war, and UNAMID, a joint operation with the African Union in Darfur.
International experts and U.N. officials estimate at least 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes in Darfur since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in 2003 accusing the central government of neglect.
While UNAMID is struggling to reach its planned level of 26,000 troops and police, UNMIS came under criticism after heavy fighting between Sudan’s army and southern Sudanese forces in the disputed oil-rich town of Abyei in May.
U.S. envoy to Sudan Richard Williamson has accused the force of hiding in barracks during the fighting instead of protecting Sudanese civilians.
Qazi acknowledged mistakes but also defended the actions of UNMIS peacekeepers during the fighting, which resulted in an estimated 89 deaths, including 18 civilians.
“The fact of the matter is that there was a breakdown of local command and control. Instructions of high officials were simply ignored by local commanders,” Qazi reported, apparently referring to the Sudanese.
He conceded that an internal UNMIS review had acknowledged failure to protect U.N. agency compounds in the town.
But he said the peacekeepers sheltered and escorted more than 100 civilians during the fighting in the town, which straddles the border between northern and semi-autonomous southern Sudan.
“When two regular armies fight each other with tanks, multi-barrel rocket launchers, artillery and heavy machine guns, then, irrespective of the specific number of peacekeepers assigned to Abyei, there is no way they can actively intervene to suppress the fighting,” Qazi said.
“Moreover, UNMIS has no such mandate,” he added.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)