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Beshir goes west on Darfur tour

Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir has flown into West Darfur, pressing ahead with a tour of the war-torn region and looking to defy possible charges of genocide.

world Updated: Jul 24, 2008 16:46 IST

Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir flew into the state capital of West Darfur on Thursday, pressing ahead with a tour of the war-torn region and looking to defy possible charges of genocide.

The head of state stepped out of his plane on the tarmac of El Geneina airport, wearing a safari suit, greeted by the strains of the Sudanese national anthem from a military band, said an AFP correspondent.

On Wednesday, he danced and brandished his walking stick before thousands of supporters in El Fasher and Nyala, the two other state capitals in the vast western region of Sudan ravaged by conflict for more than five years.

Beshir has inaugurated development projects and held talks with state and UN peacekeeping officials. He will hold further talks and attend a rally in El Geneina on what is his first visit to Darfur since July 2007.

Ten days ago, world court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo accused Beshir of instructing his forces to annihilate three non-Arab groups in Darfur, masterminding murder, torture, pillaging and using rape to commit genocide.

The United Nations says that up to 300,000 people have died and more than 2.2 million have fled their homes since the conflict erupted in February 2003. Sudan says 10,000 have been killed.

The war began when African ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime and state-backed Arab militias, fighting for resources and power in one of the most remote and deprived places on earth.

Beshir's regime is trying to persuade the UN Security Council to freeze possible legal proceedings should International Criminal Court judges actually issue an arrest warrant, charging that it could jeopardise peace prospects.

West Darfur shares a porous border with Chad. Sudan and Chad agreed to restore relations, severed by Khartoum over accusations that Ndjamena backed a rebel attack on the capital in May, just days after Ocampo's announcement.

Top Western and Arab diplomats, including US charge d'affaires Alberto Fernandez and British ambassador Rosalind Marsden, are accompanying Beshir.

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