KHARTOUM - Sudan on Thursday sought to dismiss reports that its President Omar al-Beshir is about to become the first sitting head of state to be charged with genocide by International Criminal Court (ICC) judges.
The ICC had been expected to make a decision on issuing an arrest warrant as early as this month after chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo in July accused Beshir of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.
According to the United Nations, 300,000 people have died and more than 2.2 million have fled their homes since rebels in the western region rose up against the Khartoum government in February 2003.
But Sudan, which puts the death toll from the six-year conflict at 10,000, sought to dismiss a New York Times report on Wednesday that the ICC had decided to issue an arrest warrant for Beshir as "rumours" aimed at thwarting peace talks.
"The rumours are aimed to spoil the Doha talks; that is why we don't consider them," foreign ministry official Mutrif Siddiq told AFP, referring to Qatari-hosted talks between a Darfur rebel group and the Khartoum government.
In Doha, the head of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the most active rebel group in Darfur, called on Beshir to give himself up.
"I advise Beshir to turn himself in, voluntarily," Khalil Ibrahim said, adding that he would welcome any arrest warrant for the Sudanese president.
"If Beshir does not turn himself in, no doubt, we will arrest him and hand him over to the international court," Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim, whose JEM last year launched an unprecedented but unsuccessful attack on Khartoum, said that a warrant would "not affect the peace process, neither in Darfur nor in Sudan, nor will it affect Sudan's stability."
Ocampo has also tried to obtain ICC arrest warrants against three unnamed Darfur rebel leaders for an attack in September 2007 in which 12 African Union peacekeepers were killed and eight wounded.
ICC judges in December requested more information from Ocampo on the charges against the rebels.
Sudanese officials, including Beshir, have always insisted they will not cooperate with the ICC, saying that any allegations of crimes in Darfur would be dealt with in Sudanese courts.
"It's clear Sudan is not a party of the ICC. Whatever the ICC does it is not affecting us," Siddiq said, slamming the charges as "politically motivated."
Sudan has been seeking to garner international support to fight the accusations, with the Arab League and the African Union both saying formal ICC charges will not help the situation in Darfur.
Khartoum has also in recent weeks hosted senior officials from China and Russia, both of which have veto rights as permanent members of the UN Security Council which has the power to defer a Beshir prosecution for one year, renewable.
ICC spokeswoman Laurence Blairon told AFP following the New York Times report that "at this moment, there is no arrest warrant."
"When we have something to announce, we will announce it. For now, there is nothing to announce."
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday urged Khartoum to act "very responsibly" if an arrest warrant is issued for Beshir.
The UN chief said that whatever decision the ICC reaches, "it will be very important for President Beshir and the Sudanese government to react very responsibly and ensure the safety and security" of UN peacekeepers in Darfur and protect the human rights of the population.
Last week, UN special envoy to Sudan Ashraf Qazi warned that the UN Security Council would have to weigh "potential threats" to the operation of the UN mission in Sudan (UNMIS) and the joint UN-AU mission in Darfur (UNAMID).
"We have received assurances of protection and cooperation from Sudanese authorities at the highest levels," he noted. "But these assurances have been qualified by warnings about political outrage."
Earlier this month, Ban also voiced concern about remarks by some Sudanese officials suggesting that "Khartoum may redefine its relationship with UNMIS should an arrest warrant be issued against president Beshir."