A defiant Sudanese president rallied Arab supporters in Darfur Wednesday by saying no war crimes court or the U.N. Security Council can touch even "an eyelash" on him despite an international order for his arrest.
Speaking to thousands at a rally near the southern Darfur town of Nyala, Omar al-Bashir denounced the West for allegedly seeking to "create chaos in Sudan" and trying to split Darfur from the rest of the country.
His remarks reflected his confidence amid support from the Arab League, whose chief Amr Moussa said this week that the 22-nation group will not act on the International Criminal Court's arrest warrant when al-Bashir flies to an Arab summit in Qatar at the end of the month.
"No ICC or Security Council or any other party will change our path or touch an eyelash in our eye," al-Bashir shouted at the rally in Niyala's nomad Sabadou area. "The president of Sudan is not elected by Britain or America. Sudan is an independent country."
This was al-Bashir's second visit to Darfur since the ICC issued the warrant on March 4 on charges of war crimes in the western Sudanese region.
The Netherlands-based court accuses al-Bashir of orchestrating atrocities against civilians in Darfur, where his Arab-led government has been battling ethnic African rebels since 2003. Up to 300,000 people have been killed and 2.7 million have been driven from their homes.
Many fear the warrant could unleash violence against civilians and the joint U.N.-African Union mission in Darfur.
The Sudanese government responded to the warrant by expelling 13 large foreign aid agencies, most of them operating in Darfur, as al-Bashir accused them of spying for the ICC. The U.N. estimates that the expulsion threatens more than 3 million people with the loss of food aid, health care or suitable drinking water.
Al-Bashir again denounced the warrant at Wednesday's rally, saying his "holy fighters are ready to fight." His speech was broadcast live on Sudanese state television and showed a smiling al-Bashir, speaking from a truck to chanting supporters, mostly tribesmen dressed in traditional white robes and turbans. Behind the crowd, a group of tribesmen paraded, galloping on horseback.
Al-Bashir claimed the West seeks to create chaos in Sudan similar to Iraq, where he said U.S. forces "killed women and children, looted the country and planted sedition."
"Those criminals want to do the same in Sudan," he said, occasionally waving his cane. "We will not give them the chance to sabotage our country."
He also asserted that ethnic conflict between Darfur's Arabs and Africans was the work of "Satan" and urged them to "cure the demons" and restore peace in the region.
Al-Bashir's expulsion of aid groups has worried Washington. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Tuesday on the Sudanese president to reverse the order or at least replace the groups with sufficient resources to address the humanitarian crisis.
In a signal the Obama administration intends to step up involvement in the African country, President Barack Obama settled on retired Air Force Gen. J. Scott Gration, a close personal friend with long experience on African issues, to be special envoy to Sudan, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.
Apart from the Arab League, the African Union has also expressed support for al-Bashir, although both have criticized his decision to expel foreign aid workers. The AU in January announced that its own high-level panel would investigate Darfur atrocities.
That panel was launched Wednesday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki. However, it doesn't have any judicial powers and its mandate remains unclear.
Sudan's Ambassador to the African Union, Mohieldin Salim, said his government believes the panel would "do everything good for Africa and for Sudan without any interference from outsiders."