AFRICANGLOBE – The Sudanese government confirmed reports that president and war criminal Omer Hassan al-Bashir was forced to return to Khartoum after civil aviation authorities in Saudi Arabia barred his place from crossing its airspace.
Bashir was headed to Tehran to take part in the swearing-in ceremony of president-elect Hasssan Rouhani. Sudan official news agency (SUNA) said that Bashir was on a chartered Saudi flight flown by non-Sudanese pilots and noted that they had obtained prior clearance for the trip.
The agency said that Khartoum is awaiting clarification from Riyadh on the incident.
A presidential official in Khartoum did not speculate on the causes behind the Saudi move. “The Saudi authorities refused to give the plane carrying President Bashir permission to cross their airspace,” Emad Sayed Ahmed, the presidential press secretary, told reporters.
Ahmed said that when Bashir’s plane entered Saudi airspace the pilot informed authorities that it had approval “and that it was carrying Sudan’s leader. The plane circled inside Saudi airspace for an hour seeking to negotiate approval but to no avail. “But they said the plane didn’t have permission,” forcing it to return to Khartoum, he said.
Bashir was accompanied by presidential affairs minister Bakri Hassan Saleh, foreign minister Ali Karti and intelligence director Mohammed Atta among others.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi was quoted by the ISNA news agency as calling the Saudi move “very unfortunate”, and adding that Tehran was investigating.
The move by Riyadh represents a fresh and huge embarrassment to Bashir who have seen his travel difficulties mount in the wake of the two warrants issued by the the Hague-based International Criminal Court in 2009 and 2010 for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide over the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region.
Last month Bashir’s reportedly “fled” Nigeria where he was scheduled to take part in a regional summit over a case filed in a local court by the Nigeria Coalition on the International Criminal Court (NCICC) to compel the government to arrest him.
Officials in Abuja said despite being theoretically obliged to execute the warrant as members of the Hague- based court, they are nonetheless adhering to an African Union (AU) decision instructing members not to cooperate with the ICC with regards to Bashir.
Saudi Arabia, however, was one of the nations Bashir frequently visited after his indictment as Riyadh is not party to the ICC statute.
The incident brings back memories of a similar situation when Turkmenistan and Tajikistan in June 2011 refused to give permission to Bashir’s plane in order to reach China where he was to start a state visit.
The Sunni Saudi Arabia has been quietly disheartened about Sudan’s close ties with its longtime Shiite foe, Iran.
Sudan twice allowed Iranian warships to dock in Port Sudan last year, drawing concern by the United States and its allies in the Gulf.
In an editorial last November titled “The fall of masks between Iran and Sudan”, the Saudi pro-government Al-Riyadh newspaper blasted Khartoum over allowing entry to the Iranian warships, saying there is no “logical justification” for a relationship between the two countries.
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