Sudan's leader mounts charm offensive
Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan who has been accused of genocide, is not especially well-known for his dance moves. But on Wednesday, in...
The New York Times
EL FASHER, Sudan — Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan who has been accused of genocide, is not especially well-known for his dance moves.
But on Wednesday, in front of tens of thousands of people packed into what appeared to be a mandatory pep rally in Darfur, the portly president jumped on a desk and did a little jig.
"Seer, seer, al-Bashir!" spectators screamed. "Go, go, Mr. Bashir!"
With an international indictment looming on charges of genocide, Bashir returned to the scene of the war crimes he is accused of committing in Darfur — this time on an uncharacteristic charm offensive.
It was here in El Fasher, on the same airport tarmac where Bashir was blessed Wednesday morning by a hundred elders leaning on canes, that rebels blew up government planes in 2003, setting off a conflict that would claim 300,000 lives and threaten to destabilize an entire region in the heart of Africa.
Sudanese forces and government-sponsored militias swept the countryside. They burned down villages, raped countless women and drove hundreds of thousands of people off their land, all part of an effort to put down the rebellion. The violence drove more than 2 million people off their land. The prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has accused Bashir of being the "mastermind" of this strategy, the one with "absolute control."
But on Wednesday, Bashir did not act as if he felt guilty. He focused on peace, development and pleasing the crowds. The minute he stepped off the plane here, a white dove was thrust into his hands.
Bashir threw the bird toward the sky. It flapped a few times, but did not really fly.
No bother. Bashir beamed and strutted down the runway.
The roadshow, part of a whistle-stop tour of the three biggest cities in Darfur, seems to be part of Bashir's attempt to head off an arrest warrant that the prosecution is seeking and judges at The Hague are considering.
The U.N. Security Council has authority to suspend the case, and some council members, like China and Russia, have already indicated they are leaning this way, saying the allegations against Bashir are complicating peace efforts. It seems that the Sudanese government hopes that if it shows some goodwill — and it would need to do so fast — the United Nations will intervene in the case.
He was not especially antagonistic at the rally on Wednesday, considering he had threatened not so long ago to mount a jihad against U.N. peacekeepers and turn Darfur into a "graveyard" of blue helmets. Thousands of peacekeepers are now here and more on their way as part of a U.N.-African Union force.
Instead, Bashir visited their headquarters in El Fasher, expressing condolences for the peacekeepers who had been killed and promising full cooperation with their mission, according to a statement by the joint force. He also admitted that "there had been problems in Darfur and injustices," which was unusual for him. "And we're working on them," he reassured his people.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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