Sudan president's arrival in China delayed

By ALEXA OLESEN | June 27, 2011 | 5:15 AM EDT

BEIJING (AP) — A planned visit by Sudan's president to China, which was criticized by rights groups because he is wanted on international war crimes charges, was delayed Monday, though officials gave no reason.

President Omar al-Bashir was to have arrived in Beijing just after dawn Monday, but by the middle of the afternoon his flight had not appeared. Chinese and Sudanese officials did not immediately give a reason for the delay, which put off a scheduled meeting with President Hu Jintao.

Foreign Ministry official Guan Enxia told reporters waiting at Beijing's airport that al-Bashir's scheduled events for Monday had been delayed. She did not give a reason. Guan instructed reporters to leave the airport and said they would be alerted ahead of time "if or when" al-Bashir comes in Monday.

A media official at the Sudan Embassy in Beijing, Chang Junling, said the embassy did not know the reason for the delay or have any other information.

Another embassy media officer, Lin Fen, confirmed that Sudan's ambassador went to the airport Monday morning to greet the president but had returned to his office.

Al-Bashir's planned state visit stirred up controversy because he is wanted by the International Criminal Court for allegedly orchestrating atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region during the country's civil war, the first such warrent against a sitting head of state.

But China, which has major oil investments in Sudan, is not a member of the court and has expressed concerns that the indictment of al-Bashir could cause further instability in the region.

The Sudanese leader rejects the charges from the Netherlands-based court, which has no police force and relies on member states to execute its orders and warrants.

Amnesty International said earlier this month that China 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.

Al-Bashir has traveled without arrest to several other nations, including ICC treaty signatories Chad and Kenya.

His talks with Chinese leaders are expected to focus on promoting peace in the African nation ahead of south Sudan's independence next month.

Violence has escalated in areas contested by the north and soon-to-be-independent south, and China is pressing both sides to peacefully settle the disputes, Beijing's special envoy for African affairs Liu Guijin said last week.

China has long had close ties with the leaders of the north. It has been courting support in the oil-producing south, which becomes an independent country July 9.

In an interview with China's state-run Xinhua News Agency before he left Sudan, al-Bashir said the split would not affect relations between Sudan and China, even if Beijing were to establish relations with the southern Sudan state.

He praised China as an oil partner, calling the agreements with Chinese companies a "real exchange of benefits," while saying deals with Western companies were unfair.

South Sudan's declaration of independence next month 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.