(photo credit: AP)
President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, has met with Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, state radio reported Sunday.
But the former opposition leader now trying to govern with Mugabe as prime minister - and struggling to end Zimbabwe's international isolation - said he had not known al-Bashir was expected.
Al-Bashir, the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the international human rights court, paid a courtesy call late Saturday on Mugabe, the radio said. Al-Bashir was attending a two-day Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa summit Mugabe was hosting in the northwestern resort town of Victoria Falls.
Zimbabwe is not among the 108 countries that have ratified the statute creating the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal. Ratifying nations would be required to arrest al-Bashir.
Welcoming al-Bashir was likely to earn Zimbabwe praise from African and Arab nations that have condemned the indictment of the Sudanese leader. But it won't help Zimbabwe's attempts to re-engage with Western leaders.
Al-Bashir has made a half dozen trips abroad, to Arab and African countries, since his indictment in March. In April he was in Ethiopia, headquarters of the African Union, which has said al-Bashir's arrest would threaten the fragile peace process in Sudan and has asked the U.N. to defer the warrant for one year. The Arab League has rejected the indictment.
The ICC charges stem from al-Bashir's Arab-led government's six-year battle with ethnic African rebels in Sudan's Darfur region. About 300,000 people have died in fighting and 2.7 million displaced in the conflict, according to U.N. figures. Sudan says the numbers are exaggerated.
At the summit al-Bashir was attending in Zimbabwe, leaders from 19 nations will consider aid and investment proposals for Zimbabwe, which is in economic meltdown.
Zimbabwe's closest neighbors have failed to agree on a funding package for the coalition government formed in February between Mugabe and former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, prime minister in the new government.
Tsvangirai left Harare on Saturday on a three week trip to Europe and the United States to meet with Western leaders in efforts to end a decade of Western isolation and re-engage with traditional donors and investors.
Tsvangirai told reporters on his departure from Harare he is scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama in Washington, state radio said Sunday.
On his first stop Sunday in the Netherlands, Tsvangirai met Dutch Development Aid Minister Bert Koenders. Koenders says the West still needs to see more progress on reforms targeting human rights, the reining in of security services and the country's central bank.
By leaving the country, Tsvangirai avoided any encounter with al-Bashir. Asked about the Sudanese leader in the Netherlands, Tsvangirai told reporters: "I am here. I did not even know he was coming."
Ian Makone, an aide accompanying Tsvangirai, later said al-Bashir was officially a guest of the summit and was invited by the economic group's departing chair, Kenya.
The West has isolated Mugabe, accused of trampling on democracy and ruining a once-vibrant economy. Tsvangirai has had to acknowledge Zimbabwe under the unity government has yet to see the kind of democratic and economic reform that might encourage Western donors to offer development aid.
Accepting the chairmanship of the economic grouping from President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya on Sunday, Mugabe called conflict "a serious cancer in our region." He did not refer to Sudan.
"Let us make Africa a continent of opportunity for all its peoples by eliminating conflict," Mugabe said in an address broadcast on state radio.
Mugabe said the grouping represented 400 million people who had not escaped the effects of the global financial crisis and called for a greater role by Africa in shaping the future.
"We can no longer be observers and protesters," he said.