China welcomes Sudan leader wanted on war crimes

June 28, 2011 - 6:14 AM
China Sudan

Sudan's leader Omar al-Bashir, left, shakes hands with Chinese officials as he arrives at Beijing International Airport on Tuesday June 28, 2011. Sudan's president arrived in Beijing for talks with Chinese officials on Tuesday, a day after his plane was forced to turn back over Turkmenistan because of flight itinerary problems. (AP Photo/Liu Jin, Pool)

BEIJING (AP) — China said Sudan's president will be warmly welcomed on his delayed state visit Tuesday and it would reserve opinion on the international warrant that accuses him of war crimes.

President Omar al-Bashir has been welcomed in many countries in recent years and would be to China as well, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

The International Criminal Court warrant alleging war crimes is its first against a sitting head of state, accusing al-Bashir of orchestrating atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region. China, a major economic partner for Sudan, is not a member of the court.

"China is not a signatory of the ICC ... and we reserve our opinion on the ICC's prosecution of al-Bashir," Hong told a news conference.

Al-Bashir will hold talks with President Hu Jintao on Wednesday, a meeting delayed a day because al-Bashir arrived nearly 24 hours later than expected.

Sudan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement Monday the plane was told to change its route while flying over Turkmenistan but was unable to do so, and instead returned to Tehran.

Sudan's ruling National Congress Party has suggested the United States pressured China and other countries in an attempt to cancel the trip.

Sudanese media reported that the presidential plane was over Turkmenistan airspace when authorities there said they had withdrawn an earlier flight authorization for it.

Another country in the flight path, Tajikistan, excused itself from a prior authorization by citing military exercises taking place in the same airspace, according to the independent Al Rae Al Aam daily, among others.

After Al-Bashir's plane returned to Iran, the Chinese government insisted the trip be completed, the newspapers reported, quoting informed sources in the government who asked not to be named.

"This is a new defeat for the United States of America" the independent daily Al Rae Al Aam, quoted Gotbi Mahadi, a senior ruling party official as saying.

Al-Bashir's talks with Chinese leaders are expected to focus on promoting peace in the African nation ahead of south Sudan's independence next month.

Violence has escalated in areas contested by the north and soon-to-be-independent south, and China is pressing both sides to peacefully settle the disputes, Beijing's special envoy for African affairs Liu Guijin said last week.

China has long had close ties with the leaders of the north. It has been courting support in the oil-producing south, which becomes an independent country July 9.

South Sudan's declaration of independence next month will be the culmination of a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of civil war that killed more than 2 million people.

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Associated Press writer Mohamed Osman in Khartoum, Sudan, contributed to this report.