Africa

Omar al-Bashir arrest request rejected by Malawi

President Bashir is welcomed in Lilongwe
Image caption African leaders have called for the ICC to suspend President Bashir's arrest warrant

Malawi has rejected calls to arrest visiting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted for war crimes in Darfur.

Mr Bashir was welcomed by a military guard of honour when he arrived in the capital, Lilongwe, for a trade summit.

Malawi's Information Minister Patricia Kaliati told the BBC it was not her government's "business" to arrest him.

The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Mr Bashir in 2008.

The European Union and human rights groups have urged Malawi, which is a signatory to the ICC, to arrest Mr Bashir.

""Genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes must not go unpunished and their prosecution must be ensured by measures at both domestic and international level," a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.

Ms Kaliati said Malawi could not detain Mr Bashir as he was attending a heads of state summit of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), a regional trade bloc.

"He's coming for business and we don't have any business to do with the arrest of President Omar," she told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

"We are very honoured to have these heads of state."

'Staunch ICC critic'

The BBC's Joel Nkhoma in Liliongwe says Malawi's refusal to arrest Mr Bashir is not surprising because President Bingu wa Mutharika has become a staunch critic of the ICC.

Image caption The conflict has displaced hundreds of thousands of people in Darfur

He accuses it of unfairly targeting African leaders and believes that Africa should set up its own court to try alleged war criminals, our reporter says.

Mr Bashir was the first head of state to be indicted by the ICC, which accused him of genocide and war crimes in Darfur.

Mr Bashir denies the allegation, saying the ICC is controlled by Western powers hostile to Sudan.

Several other African countries have also refused to arrest Mr Bashir and the African Union has urged the UN to suspend the arrest warrant.

Some 2.7 million people have fled their homes since the conflict began in Darfur, and the UN says about 300,000 have died - mostly from disease.

Sudan's government says the conflict has killed about 12,000 people and the number of dead has been exaggerated for political reasons.

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