The United Nations denied a media report on Tuesday claiming that North Sudanese troops held South African peacekeepers in Darfur hostage in order to place pressure on the South African government to allow Sudanese President Omar al Bashir to leave the country and avoid being arrested to face genocide charges before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
"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," UN spokesman Farhan Haq said in a statement.
President Bashir left Johannesburg on Monday and headed back to Sudan’s capital Khartoum despite a South African travel ban temporarily preventing him from leaving the country pending a decision on whether or not he would be extradited to the ICC based in The Hague.
A source speaking to Turkey’s Anadolu Agency on the condition of anonymity, said that Bashir left using his presidential plane from the military airfield in Johannesburg.
South African website News24 reported on Tuesday that Sudanese troops surrounded South African peacekeepers in the western region of Darfur until Bashir returned to Khartoum, causing the South African government allowing the Sudanese leader to leave the country unhindered.
The ICC issued arrest warrants for Bashir in 2009 and 2010. The warrant for Bashir’s arrest in 2009 included charges of war crimes for ordering a violent crackdown on a rebellion in Darfur, a conflict which killed as many as 300,000 people according to the United Nations.
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.