BEIJING – China says Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir will visit the country in a little over a week, despite the fact he's wanted by an international court on war crimes charges.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Thursday that al-Bashir is making the June 27-30 visit at the invitation of Chinese President Hu Jintao. Hong said al-Bashir will meet with Hu and other Chinese leaders and that talks would seek to promote peace in Sudan.
The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for al-Bashir for allegedly orchestrating atrocities in the African nation's Darfur region. However, China is not a member of the ICC and in 2008 expressed concerns that the court's indictment of al-Bashir could cause further instability in the region.
The Sudanese leader rejects the charges and the Netherlands-based court, which has no police force and relies on member states to execute its orders and warrants.
Amnesty International said Friday that the Chinese government should withdraw its invitation to al-Bashir and arrest him if he travels to Beijing.
"If China welcomes Omar Al-Bashir, it will become a safe haven for alleged perpetrators of genocide", said Amnesty's Deputy Asia Pacific Director Catherine Baber. "China should not allow Omar Al-Bashir to enter its territory and must arrest him if he turns up."
Al-Bashir previously has traveled without arrest to several friendly nations, including ICC treaty signatories Chad and Kenya.
Al-Bashir had been among several African leaders scheduled to attend a forum in Malaysia beginning Sunday, but he pulled out after rights group Amnesty International called on Malaysia to uninvite or arrest him. Al-Bashir's foreign minister said he had other engagements.
The announcement in Beijing comes as a U.N. report says violence near the already tense internal border between north and south Sudan is increasing, with dozens of people reported killed in attacks in South Kordofan.
The area is part of Arab and Muslim-dominated northern Sudan, but many who live there are black Africans who support the Christian and animist south. Southern Sudan will declare independence from the north on July 9, the culmination of a 2005 peace deal.
"China would like to play a positive role in promoting Sudan's peace and reconciliation, boosting the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and safeguarding regional peace and stability," Hong said in a regular briefing.
Sudan is China's third-largest trading partner in Africa, Hong said.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said China makes its own decisions about who to invite for visits. She said Beijing should reaffirm to Bashir the importance of stopping the violence and getting back to the peace agreement.
"We just they hope they use the opportunity of having him in town to make strong points to him about the future of his country and the importance of peace," she told a news conference in Washington.
China is uniquely positioned to exert influence over the conflict between north and south Sudan, given its efforts to maintain friendly ties with the southern region to protect Chinese oil investments while remaining a key political ally of Sudan's government in the north.
China's energy needs make the country deeply vested in Sudan's future. Sudan is sub-Saharan Africa's third-largest oil producer, producing 490,000 barrels of oil a day last year — two-thirds of it to China.
Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.