Nearly two months after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the unfazed leader assessed his first weeks as a wanted man: "For us, the ICC indictment has been positive."
Bashir's surroundings underlined his point: The president is in Ethiopia, where the country's prime minister has welcomed Bashir with open arms. It's the sixth foreign trip Bashir has taken since his March 4 indictment, and proves that African leaders won't quickly turn over the indicted leader to the court.
Indeed, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi used the visit to criticize the ICC and what he called "the overpolitization of justice." No officials have attempted to detain Bashir on his foreign visits, and the leader claims support at home: "For the internal front in Sudan, we have all seen how the Sudanese people have come out in a spontaneous way to support the president of Sudan."
Some Sudanese have rallied for Bashir, but millions languish in refugee camps in the western region of Darfur. For those refugees, the indictment hasn't been positive: Bashir expelled 13 foreign aid groups delivering as much as half of the life-sustaining aid to camps in Darfur. The United Nations warned that as many as 1 million people won't get food rations if the expulsions stick.
Meanwhile, trouble is brewing in South Sudan, where thousands of refugees are returning after decades of civil war with Bashir's Khartoum-based government. South Sudanese leaders are clamoring to establish stability in the region, but they've already delayed this year's scheduled elections until 2010.
Ethnic clashes over the weekend in the southern state of Jonglei highlighted the internal security challenges the south faces: The U.N. estimates more than 170 people were killed in a feud between two tribes that began as a conflict over cattle-stealing.
Tribes in the region have long fought over cattle, but David Gressly of the U.N. mission in South Sudan said the recent fighting was particularly disturbing: Officials say raiders burned down at least 12 villages and displaced thousands of people. A local commissioner told Reuters that many children drowned in a river as they tried to flee gunmen.
Gressly said the attacks on civilian camps added "a new dimension which I find worrisome, and one that needs to be de-escalated rather rapidly before we see a further deterioration in the situation there." U.N. officials planned to send an assessment team to the remote region that has only 30 miles of dirt roads.
For southern officials, the attacks highlighted the political challenge ahead: Keep their own region safe while trying to negotiate with an increasingly emboldened president willing to allow millions to languish in his own land.