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AU summit moved to Addis Ababa over Bashir row


ADDIS ABABA (AFP) - Next month's African Union summit has been moved to Ethiopia after scheduled host Malawi refused to welcome Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, a war crimes suspect, an AU official said on Monday.

"The summit was supposed to be held in Malawi but now it has been changed. It will be held in headquarters in Addis Ababa," the chairman of the AU's permanent representatives committee, Ferdinand Montcho, told reporters.

Malawi on Friday cancelled its hosting of next month's summit after a row over the pan-African bloc's insistence on inviting Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The summit's scheduled July 9-16 dates are unchanged.

Malawi's decision was hailed by Sudan's foreign ministry, shortly after it was announced, as a "great victory" for Sudanese diplomacy.

"Sudanese diplomacy has achieved a great victory in resisting the plans of the ICC, which has tried to limit the movements of President Bashir," it said in a statement carried by the official SUNA news agency.

The AU official accused the the Hague-based court on Monday of interfering in African affairs.

"This matter of ICC for me it is nonsense, every time we want to have a summit they start disturbing us," Montcho said. "Why should they not let us hold our meeting (without) this cinema, this theatre, this play?"

Malawi recognises the ICC, which has a warrant of arrest for Bashir on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the troubled Darfur region.

Malawi's new president, Joyce Banda, said last month she wanted the Sudanese leader to stay out of the country in order to maintain ties with donor countries.

Under current ICC rules, signatories -- which include Malawi and 32 other African states -- have a duty to arrest Bashir.

Earlier this month, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told the UN Security Council that failure to detain him and other Sudanese officials accused of war crimes and genocide was "a direct challenge to the council's authority."

He said the council should consider calling on all 193 UN member states and regional organisations to carry out the arrest warrants.

The Sudanese leader is the first sitting president indicted by the court and his visits spark diplomatic headaches for African nations, with some signatories vowing his arrest on their soil while others flout the court's rules.

Malawi was reported to the council in December for refusing to arrest Bashir after Banda's predecessor Mutharika gave him a red carpet welcome at a regional trade summit.

In 2009, the AU said it would not respect the ICC warrant and urged the United Nations to suspend the arrest order.

Last month, the foreign minister of Benin, which is the current AU chair, said the group had no reason to bar Bashir from the summit.

The meeting, meant to end with a heads of state summit from July 15-16, will elect a new commission chair after a deadlock in January.

The AU held a one-day gathering last month in Benin's capital Cotonou to try to end the impasse after African leaders failed to choose between Gabon's Jean Ping, who has held the post since 2008 and South Africa's Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a former foreign minister and ex-wife of the president.

Ping was present at the meeting, along with the presidents and prime ministers of several African states.

The AU summit in Addis Ababa in January extended Ping's mandate by six months following the deadlock in the election for a new AU Commission chairman.

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