ADDIS ABABA — The African Union on Friday said the International Criminal Court's decision to consider adding genocide charges to an arrest warrant for President Omar el-Beshir harms Sudan's peace process.
"The AU reiterates that the search for justice should be pursued in a manner not detrimental to the search for peace. The latest decision by the ICC runs in the opposite direction," the pan-African body said in a statement.
An appeals chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Wednesday ordered a review of Beshir's arrest warrant for alleged atrocities in the western Sudanese province of Darfur.
It directed judges to reconsider their decision omitting genocide from the warrant issued in March last year, saying they had made "an error in law".
The African Union said the ICC's decision comes at a sensitive time for Sudan -- with elections due to be held in April and a referendum on self-determination for Southern Sudan set for January 2011.
"For the African continent, the successful completion of these processes and, more generally, the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) are of utmost importance," it added.
The AU had asked the UN Security Council to defer proceedings against Beshir, but it has yet to do so.
On Tuesday, the 53-member bloc sought an amendment to the Rome Statute that established the ICC to enable the UN General Assembly to defer cases when the Security Council fails to decide on them.
The Sudanese embassy in Addis Ababa on Friday also denounced ICC's latest ruling.
"It is quite obvious that the ICC decision is more political rather than legal and it is propagated by known circles to Sudan to destabilise the country," a statement said.
The ICC issued the arrest warrant for Beshir on five counts of crimes against humanity and two of war crimes committed in Sudan's war-torn western Darfur region -- its first-ever warrant for a sitting head of state.
"At this crucial juncture, when all Sudanese are expected to participate in the general election in April, ... the ICC confirmed the appeal of the prosecutor general to include genocide against the president ... that undoutedly will undermine the peace process ..." the embassy said.
"The government of Sudan gives peace the priority," it added, arguing the ICC decision will both imperil the peace talks underway in Doha, Qatar and aggravate the suffering of the people of Darfur.
The UN says up to 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million fled their homes since the ethnic minority rebels in Darfur first rose up against the Arab-dominated Sudan government in February 2003.
Khartoum says 10,000 people have been killed.
The ICC has no means of its own to enforce the warrant for Beshir's arrest and relies on states to execute it. It cannot try Beshir in absentia.
Beshir has visited several countries, non-signatories to the ICC's founding Rome Statute, since the warrant was issued. Many African and Arab states along with Sudan's key ally China have called for the warrant to be suspended.
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