Sudan government has agreed to hand over former dictator Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to face trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The decision marks a dramatic shift from the previous official position of the country’s new rulers, though observers warned that many obstacles still needed to overcome before the 76-year-old reached a court room.
The exact details of how and when the ex-president might be handed over are unclear, and apparently depend on a comprehensive peace deal between authorities and rebels. There are also doubts about the support of Sudan’s powerful military for such a move.
Bashir is accused of serious crimes in a conflict that broke out in Darfur in 2003 and led to the deaths of 300,000.
The commitment came at peace talks between Sudan’s government and rebel groups from the Darfur region.
“Justice cannot be achieved if we don’t heal the wounds,” said Mohammed Hassan al-Taishi, a spokesman for the Sudanese government.
He told BBC Focus on Africa radio that Bashir and three others would be handed over to the ICC.
Asked if supporters of the ousted president would accept this decision, Mr Taishi replied that no-one was above justice.
“We are doing what the Sudanese people asked us to do,” he added.
Mr Taishi stressed that he was expressing the view of the government, which includes powerful generals in the military, and not his personal view.
Bashir, who refused to recognise the authority of the court when he was charged for crimes in the region in 2009, was ousted as president in April last year.
On Tuesday, one of his lawyers told Reuters news agency that Bashir would continue to refuse to deal with the ICC, describing it as a “political court”.
ICC prosecutors in The Hague requested that the former leader stand trial over the Darfur killings and issued an arrest warrant for him on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The UN says that in addition to those killed in fighting between local armed groups, and Bashir’s forces and government-backed militia – such as the infamous Janjaweed – around 2.5 million people were displaced in the war.
Warrants for Bashir’s arrest were issued in 2009 and 2010 by the ICC.
Bashir, 76, came to power in a military coup in 1989 and ruled Sudan with an iron fist.
In December, he was sentenced to two years in a social reform facility for corruption. Under Sudanese law, people over the age of 70 cannot serve jail terms.
Prosecutors in Sudan have also charged him with the killing of protesters during the demonstrations that led to him being ousted.
Bashir denies all allegations against him. (Source: BBC)