The African Union will ask the U.N. Security Council to suspend action for a year on an indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Darfur genocide charges, Nigeria's foreign affairs minister said Monday.

The African Union will make the request to allow progress in negotiations to end the five year-old conflict in Darfur, Nigerian Foreign Affairs Ojo Maduekwe told journalists at the end of an emergency meeting of the African Union's Peace and Security Council.

"Our concern is the timing and how this could impact on the peace process in Sudan," said Maduekwe.

If al-Bashir were removed from power and arrested, "the whole place could turn into one huge graveyard. That could happen," Maduekwe said.

The gathering was called to discuss International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo's July 14 indictment of al-Bashir on charges of waging a campaign of genocide and rape in Darfur. The statute that set up the court allows the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution to defer or suspend for a year the investigation or prosecution of a case. The council can renew such a resolution.

Sudan's ambassador to the United Nations indicated last week he would seek backing from China, a major trading partner with Sudan that is one of the council's five permanent members with veto power, to help with pushing back against the court.

Fighting erupted in Darfur in 2003 when ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated central government, accusing it of discrimination. The government is accused of backing Arab militia fighters, called the janjaweed, who responded with a punishing campaign in which entire villages have been wiped out.

The U.N. estimates 300,000 people have died, directly from attacks or indirectly through starvation, and 2.5 million people have fled to refugee camps.

"We are asking that the ICC indictment be deferred to give peace a chance," Maduekwe said. The Nigerian diplomat spoke on behalf of his colleagues at the end of a meeting of the AU's Peace and Security Council. The council is the AU's second most important body.

The indictment marked the first time prosecutors at the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal have issued charges against a sitting head of state.

Moreno-Ocampo's indictment was coupled with a request to the court to issue an arrest warrant for al-Bashir. But it will be months before a panel of judges decides on that request.

The indictment marked the first time prosecutors at the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal have issued charges against a sitting head of state.

Moreno-Ocampo's indictment was coupled with a request to the court to issue an arrest warrant for al-Bashir. But it will be months before a panel of judges decides on that request.

Earlier Monday, Sudan's AU Ambassador, Akuei Bona Malwal, said that al-Bashir's indictment on Darfur genocide could threaten a fragile peace deal aimed at resolving a separate conflict, between north and south.

A 2005 peace agreement ended a separate 21-year war between Southern Sudan and the government in Khartoum, which is in Sudan's north. Al-Bashir was one of the signatories.

Malwal said that if al-Bashir is removed because of the indictment there is no guarantee that another Sudanese leader would abide by that peace deal and if that happened, Southern Sudan could automatically secede, he said.