Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir told Chinese media the impending split of his country’s south risked triggering “time bombs”, but said his government’s bond with China would not be shaken by Beijing’s courting of the secessionist south.
He made the comments in interviews published on Monday, the day he begins a state visit to China, his powerful patron and a major buy of Sudanese crude oil.
Beijing has been building ties with the emerging state in southern Sudan but continues to be one of the major supporters of Bashir, who faces indictment from the International Criminal Court over war crimes charges stemming from long-running fighting in the Darfur region, Reuters reports.
Next week’s secession of the oil-rich south is likely to feature in Bashir’s talks with President Hu Jintao, scheduled for late Monday afternoon.
In interviews with official Chinese media, Bashir combined reassurances about his commitment to a peaceful secession of the south, which Beijing has encouraged, with a warning that the division could still go wrong.
Bashir said he fervently hopes to maintain peace between north and south Sudan.
But there are many ‘time bombs’ and the possibility of war again breaking out between the two sides cannot be excluded, the Chinese-language People’s Daily, the country’s main official newspaper, quoted Bashir as saying in an interview.
Bashir said he was not troubled by Beijing’s dual loyalties, according to the newspaper and China’s official Xinhua news agency.
“Our policy, and also China’s, stands on the principle that each country is free to adopt the procedures and build relations in the manner that preserves its interests and relations,” Bashir said in an interview conducted in Khartoum on Sunday, according to Xinhua.
“Therefore, even if China has established relations with the south Sudan state, that will definitely not be a deduction on its relations with the north.”
Bashir had been due in Beijing early on Monday morning, but his arrival was rescheduled to later in the day.
Analysts expect Bashir to use his four-day visit to assure Chinese leaders that their investments and energy stake in Sudan will not be threatened by the north-south split scheduled for July 9.
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Bashir praised Sino-Sudanese relations as a “model” for developing countries, and lauded China’s role as an investor in oil projects shunned by Western companies, whose home governments have imposed sanctions on Khartoum.
“When the American companies refused to work in the oil field and when restrictions were imposed on the Western companies operating in Sudan, we found in China the real partner,” said Bashir in the interview published in English on Xinhua’s website (www.xinhuanet.com).
“In fact, we have received a better offer from China than that of the Western companies,” said Bashir.
Beijing has been encouraging a smooth transition along Sudan’s volatile north-south border and hopes to ensure that its oil supplies are not interrupted.
China’s special envoy for Africa Affairs and former envoy to Sudan’s conflict-torn Darfur region, Liu Guijin, told reporters last week that China had “done a lot of work to persuade” the north to implement the peace agreement and referendum.
Khartoum seized the main town in the north-south border region of Abyei on May 21, raising fears the two sides could return to conflict. But Sudan’s military and the south’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army last week agreed to withdraw their forces in favour of Ethiopian peacekeepers.
China is Khartoum’s top arms supplier, and human rights groups have urged Beijing to arrest Bashir on the outstanding war crimes charges against him during his visit.
China has shrugged off these calls, saying it has every right to invite the head of a state with which it has diplomatic relations.
China is not a signatory of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Rome Statute under which Bashir faces an arrest warrant for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.
Western powers have endorsed the court’s arrest warrant, but analysts say the United States, which is not a party to the Rome Statute, and other countries have eased pressure over the indictment in hopes the south Sudanese secession will happen peacefully.