05/27/10 | Associated Press
KHARTOUM - Sudan's president was sworn in on Thursday for another five-year term after an election marred by boycotts and fraud allegations — the only head of state to be re-elected while facing an international arrest warrant for war crimes.
At his inauguration ceremony in the national parliament, Omar al-Bashir pledged Sudan would not return to war and that an independence referendum in the country's south would be held next year as planned.
Al-Bashir is sought by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, for allegedly masterminding atrocities in Darfur. Sudan doesn't recognize the tribunal and has refused to cooperate or hand over its citizens.
The inauguration in Khartoum came a day after the ICC reported Sudan to the U.N. Security Council for refusing to arrest two other Sudanese officials — a government minister and a militia leader. The two are also suspected of war crimes in Darfur, where fighting between government and rebel forces killed 300,000 people and displaced 2.7 million from their homes.
Al-Bashir, who came to power 21 years ago in a military coup, got a comfortable majority in the April elections, winning 68 percent of more than 10 million valid ballots. His victory was widely expected after his most credible challengers pulled out of the race to protest alleged fraud.
But the win was unlikely to put to rest questions about his international standing or ease Sudan's isolation. Al-Bashir cannot travel freely because he risks being arrested in countries that recognize the ICC.
Last month's balloting was Sudan's first multiparty presidential, parliamentary and local elections in 24 years. It was also a key requirement of a 2005 peace deal that ended a 21-year civil war between the predominantly Arab and Muslim north and rebels in the Christian-animist south.
The fighting left 2 million people dead and many more displaced. The Darfur conflict, which began in 2003, is not related to that war.
The April elections also opened the way for a 2011 referendum in which the south will decide whether it wants to secede — a decision that will come under al-Bashir's new term.
\"There will be no return to war,\" al-Bashir told lawmakers as South Sudan President Salva Kiir looked on. Kiir, who was also re-elected in the April vote, was inaugurated separately in the south last week.
\"We are committed to conducting the referendum on time, as stipulated in the (peace) agreement,\" added al-Bashir. But he warned there should be \"no dictation, no coercion and no forgery of the will of the people.\"
The north and the south still must still negotiate how the two regions will share oil revenues and divide access to the Nile River waters before the referendum.
Arab satellite channels broadcast segments from Thursday's low-key ceremony, with presidents of Chad, Eritrea, Djibouti, the Central African Republic, Malawi and Mauritania attending, along with the Egyptian defense minister and the Ethiopian prime minister.
There was a noticeable absence of top Arab leaders. Human rights groups have urged nations to boycott the event to underscore their commitment to international justice.
Al-Bashir said efforts would also continue until a peaceful solution is reached for Darfur. The ceremony passed without much fanfare, but popular celebrations are expected Thursday evening.
On Wednesday, ICC judges said in a report that Sudan has refused to hand over Humanitarian Affairs Minister Ahmed Harun and Janjaweed militia leader Ali Kushayb. The court ordered the two arrested in 2007 on a total of 51 charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes. The report said it was now up to the Security Council to take appropriate action.