Issayas Invites Bashir, condemns Hague warrant

March 11, 2009

isaiasNAIROBI (Reuters) – Eritrea on Wednesday invited Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to visit the Red Sea state and condemned a Hague-court warrant for his arrest on Darfur war crimes charges.

Asmara and Khartoum have strengthened relations in recent years after breaking ties in the 1990s over Sudan’s support of Islamist guerrillas in western Eritrea — an area, explorers say, is rich in gold and other metals.

The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for Bashir for crimes in the western Darfur region. U.N. officials say as many as 300,000 people have died there since 2003.

“(Eritrea) … underlined that the drama being orchestrated by the so-called ICC amply demonstrates the anti-people stance and defamatory conspiracy on the part of external forces,” an Eritrean government statement said.

“The ICC allegation targets Sudanese sovereignty and territorial integrity,” it said on the information ministry website, shabait.com.

Eritrea said it had sent its foreign minister and three of the most powerful ruling party officials to Khartoum to discuss the ICC warrant.

The neighbors have accused each other over many years of supporting rebel groups in each other’s territory, but have developed closer ties since Eritrea brokered a peace deal between Khartoum and eastern Sudanese rebels in 2006.

The border with Sudan is an important conduit for goods into Eritrea.

Eritrea has also been heavily involved in Darfur, and has been accused of sending weapons to rebels there as well as hosting some of the rebel groups in Eritrea’s capital, Asmara.