UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations on Tuesday denied a media report that Sudanese troops held South African peacekeepers in Darfur hostage so Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir could leave South Africa and avoid being arrested to face genocide charges.
Bashir, who was due to attend an African Union summit in Johannesburg, left South Africa on Monday in defiance of a Pretoria court that later said he should have been arrested to face charges at The Hague-based International Criminal Court.
“South Africa currently has 802 members of an infantry battalion deployed in Kutum, Malha and Mellit team sites in North Darfur. We can confirm that the mission’s South African troops were not held hostage or under any threat as reported in the media,” U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said in a statement.
South Africa’s government let Bashir leave unhindered. South African website News24 reported on Tuesday that Sudanese troops had surrounded South African peacekeepers in the western region of Darfur until Bashir returned to Khartoum.
The ICC issued arrest warrants for Bashir in 2009 and 2010, accusing him of masterminding genocide and other atrocities in his campaign to crush a revolt in the Darfur region, a conflict that killed as many as 300,000 people, the United Nations has said.
A joint African Union-United Nations Mission (UNAMID) has been deployed in Darfur since 2007 with a mandate to stem violence against civilians.
Law and order have collapsed in much of Darfur, where mainly non-Arab rebels took up arms in 2003 against the Arab-led government in Khartoum, accusing it of discrimination.
Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Toni Reinhold