Turkey has shrugged off a demand from the International Criminal Court (ICC) to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during his presence in Istanbul to attend an Islamic summit earlier this month, the Turkish president said on Thursday.
Mr. Bashir faces charges of genocide and war crimes for his role during a bloody conflict in Darfur in mid2000s. He was among the Muslim leaders who joined the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Istanbul to condemn the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Turkish reporters in an interview that the ICC wrote a letter to Turkey saying it had information Bashir was in Istanbul for the OIC summit and he should be arrested and handed over to the court.
There was no immediate confirmation from the ICC, which is currently in recess, that it made such a demand.
“Something like this just makes you laugh,” Mr. Erdogan was quoted Thursday as saying on his presidential plane as he rounded off a four-day trip to Africa.
“Are we going to just go and hand over to you someone who is a member of the OIC and is taking part in such a summit?
“What kind of understanding is this? It’s impossible to understand it. We just laughed it off,” Erdogan said.
He noted that Turkey is not a signatory to the treaty which set up the Hague-based ICC.
Erdogan’s defiant comments came after holding talks with Bashir in Sudan on his Africa trip, which also took in Chad and Tunisia and underlined his ambition for a strategic foothold in the continent.
On the trip, Erdogan said Sudan had agreed to let Turkey restore the Red Sea port of Suakin Island, which thrived during the era of the Ottomans but has fallen into disrepair. He denied, however, that there was any plan to build a military base there.
Bashir is wanted by the ICC for genocide and war crimes — charges he rejects — over the conflict that broke out in Darfur in 2003 when ethnic minority groups took up arms against his government, which launched a brutal counter-insurgency.
The UN says at least 300,000 people have been killed and more than 2.5 million displaced.
While serving as prime minister in 2009, Erdogan defended Bashir, saying “a Muslim could not commit genocide, he is not capable of it”.
The ICC has previously rebuked countries including Jordan and South Africa for failing to arrest Bashir when he visited for summits.