Embattled Sudan leader visits chief backer, China

By GILLIAN WONG | June 29, 2011 | 4:59 AM EDT

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir reviews the Chinese military honor guard during a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China Wednesday, June 29, 2011. (AP Photo/Liu Jin, Pool)

BEIJING (AP) — Sudan's embattled president conferred Wednesday with his chief diplomatic backer, China, reaching agreements on economic support just days before the southern part of his country becomes independent.

Omar al-Bashir, with a warrant for war crime charges from the International Criminal Court hanging over his head, was greeted by President Hu Jintao at the Great Hall of the People and given an honor-guard reception.

Hu said he was very happy to see al-Bashir in Beijing.

"I believe that this visit will definitely have great significance for the consolidation and development of traditionally friendly relations between China and Sudan," Hu said. "I am willing to have thorough exchanges with you on our developing relations and other shared issues."

Al-Bashir thanked his hosts for his "warm welcome and treatment" on a trip that comes just ahead of south Sudan's independence on July 9.

Violence has escalated in areas contested by the north and south, and China has said it wants the two sides to peacefully settle the disputes.

South Sudan's declaration of independence will be the culmination of a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of civil war that killed more than 2 million people.

The violence also resulted in the war crimes charges against al-Bashir, the first against a sitting head of state until similar charges this week against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who is accused of crimes against humanity for killing civilians who rose up against his rule.

China is not a member of the court, based in The Hague, Netherlands, and has said the charges accusing al-Bashir of orchestrating atrocities in Sudan's Darfur could cause further instability in the region.

China has major oil investments in Sudan and has long had close ties with the leaders of the north. It has been courting support in the oil-producing south.

Al-Bashir and Hu witnessed the signing of an economic and technological cooperation agreement, and a pact for a bridge project in the east of the country. No details were immediately given.

As well, the China National Petroleum Corp., which agreed to a 20-year, multibillion-dollar development deal with Sudan in June 2007, signed an agreement Tuesday with the government to boost cooperation. A company statement did not give details.

Al-Bashir's arrival in China was delayed a day after still not fully explained confusion over a flight plan.

Sudan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the official Sudan News Agency that al-Bashir's plane had been instructed to change its route while flying over Turkmenistan but was unable to do so, and instead returned to Tehran.