China Hosts Sudan President Bashir

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir is visiting China for talks with top officials. In a news conference after his arrival Tuesday, Chinese officials defended the visit by a leader wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir arrived in Beijing early Tuesday morning, nearly one day later than originally scheduled.

Sudanese officials said his plane was turned back over Turkmenistan while en route to China. While Sudan’s government news agency quoted a top official as saying he believes the original flight permission was withdrawn because of U.S. pressure, China downplayed the incident.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei noted the delay, but said it was due to what he described as “technological problems.”

Hong says the late arrival will not influence Bashir’s meetings with top Chinese leaders. He said President Hu Jintao will meet with his Sudanese counterpart Wednesday.

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Bashir, for alleged war crimes in Darfur. The warrant is the first for a sitting head of state and human rights groups have been calling on China to arrest the Sudanese leader.

Hong said China is not a member of the International Criminal Court and so reserves judgment on the warrant. But he added that Beijing has seen other countries warmly welcome Bashir, and so China is doing the same thing.

He describes Sudan as a “friendly country” and says the Sudanese leader’s trip to China is, in his words, “quite reasonable” and “beyond criticism.”

He says China believes the visit will also help with Sudan’s North-South peace process and with the Darfur issue.

Chinese media report that Beijing is trying to be a mediator in Sudan’s North-South peace talks. The African nation is due to formally split into two countries next month. In an interview with China’s Xinhua news agency, Bashir praised China as a “real and loyal partner,” that helped Sudan blunt the impact of the US-led economic sanctions.

Western oil companies have been limited from working in Sudan by sanctions imposed because of fighting in Darfur. Despite the restrictions, China has been funding and implementing many projects in Sudan, especially those related to helping Sudan extract oil. voa

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