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South Africa to review ICC membership after Bashir row

South Africa has said it will review its membership in the ICC after a row over its failure to arrest the Sudanese president. The court has issued an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir on genocide and war crimes charges.

The minister in the presidency of South Africa, Jeff Radebe, told reporters following a cabinet meeting on Thursday that the country could withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the wake of an outcry over its

failure to arrest al-Bashir when he was in the country for an African Union summit.

"Cabinet decided that it will review South Africa's participation in the Rome Statutes of the International Court," Radebe said, adding that South Africa would only leave the court as a "last resort."

"Such a decision will only be taken when South Africa has exhausted all the remedies available to it in the terms of the Rome Statute," he said, referring to the treaty that established the ICC.

Radebe also said that the government would put together a team of ministers to discuss the dispute with the court.

"South Africa will enter into formal negotiations with the ICC on this matter with the view of understanding the ICC's reasoning," he said.

Competing obligations

He also explained that in the South African government's view, it had not only an obligation to the ICC, but also to the African Union, whose summit al-Bashir was in South Africa to attend last week.

Radebe also said that this should have come as no surprise to the ICC.

"It is abundantly clear that the ICC was aware South Africa may have difficulties in executing the warrant of arrest for President al-Bashir, because of its international commitments," he said.

Al-Bashir's plane was allowed to fly out of South Africa on June 15,

following the African Summit, despite an order issued by a Pretoria court banning him from leaving until it ruled whether he should be arrested on the ICC warrant. South Africa's government has come under fire from not only the ICC but also human rights groups and other governments for failing to detain al-Bashir.

There was no immediate reaction to the South African statement from The Hague-based ICC.

The ICC has issued arrest warrants accusing al-Bashir of war crimes and masterminding genocide in the conflict which broke out in 2003 in Sudan's western Darfur region. He has rejected the charges.

pfd/jil (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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