South Sudan considers ICC membership

Reuters , Wednesday 26 Jan 2011

The south's minister for regional cooperation, Alor, has no problem with the ICC, though membership would compel the south to arrest Bashir if he entered its territory

An independent south Sudan will consider joining the International Criminal Court (ICC), the body which has indicted Sudan's president for war crimes and genocide, a southern minister said.

Sudan's oil-producing south held a week-long referendum this month on secession from the north, which it fought in a civil war for decades, and early results indicate an overwhelming majority for separation.

Asked whether south Sudan would join the international court based in The Hague, the south's minister for regional cooperation, Deng Alor, told reporters: "Why not? We don't have a problem with the ICC.

"The ICC is about human rights. We fought for over 40 years for human rights -- we will see the procedure and definitely they will contact us or we will contact them and we will have no problem," he said late on Tuesday.

Alor is the precursor to the south's foreign minister until it becomes independent on 9 July.

ICC membership would oblige the south to arrest Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir if he entered its territory. Bashir is accused by the court of ordering genocide and war crimes in a separate conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region.

Sudan's north has pledged to remain friends with an independent south. The two new countries will be economically interdependent and share their longest border with each other.

But Khartoum rejects any recognition or even discussion of the ICC, and membership for the south would restrict Bashir's travel there and strain relations.

The southern referendum is aimed at ending Africa's longest civil war, which claimed 2 million lives, with the creation of an independent southern Sudan.

Alor added south Sudan would also apply for membership of the African Union and the East African Community after the formal announcement of referendum results in February.

"They are looking forward to us formally joining them," he said referring to the five-nation trade bloc.

Preliminary results are due on 30 January but any appeals would mean the final result would be announced on 14 February.

Alor said it was too early for south Sudan to decide whether it would establish diplomatic relations with Israel, which the Islamic Khartoum government regards as an enemy state.

"We don't have a problem with Israel. If our national interest demands that we establish diplomatic relations, we will do, but we cannot make this decision now."

Bashir on Tuesday pledged support for a new southern state in his first public address since the vote.

"With the independence of south Sudan and with the role Khartoum is playing so far, going to help in improving relations between Khartoum and Washington," Alor said.

Sudan could be removed from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism by July if the north accepts the results of the referendum, the US administration has said. It was placed on the list in 1993 for harbouring "international terrorists", and has hosted Osama bin Laden and Carlos the Jackal.

While removal from the list would not affect US trade and economic sanctions first imposed on Sudan in 1997, it may reduce some of the stigma attached to doing business with Khartoum for non-US companies or investors.

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