The UN was pulling non-essential staff from Darfur on Tuesday as protesters rallied behind Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir over allegations he masterminded a campaign of genocide in the region.
Fears of a violent backlash have mounted since the International Criminal Court chief prosecutor on Monday sought an arrest warrant against Beshir on 10 counts including war crimes and the use of rape to commit genocide in Darfur . According to AFP, the African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission said it would be flying out non-essential staff to Ethiopia and Uganda, despite pledges from Sudan to protect peacekeepers and aid workers in the country.
The first two minibuses carrying staff left UNAMID headquarters in El Fasher around midday (0900 GMT) en route to the local airport where they were expected to fly to Entebbe in Uganda, witnesses said. "It's not an evacuation. We're temporarily relocating staff, some non-essential staff," said Josephine Guerrero, spokeswoman for the UN-led peacekeeping mission.
Khartoum braced for angry protests against the ICC move. One rally led by an Islamic student movement marched from Khartoum University to the UN Development Programme office and British embassy. Some 100 other demonstrators belonging to the ruling National Congress held a separate rally outside the presidential palace.
In his first public appearance since the ICC move, Bashir danced, punched the air in delight with his walking stick and shouted "God is Great" at a ceremony to ink a new electoral law. Also on Tuesday, al-Bashir's most senior adviser told the BBC the allegations were designed to generate hostility between tribal groups in Darfur. Ghazi Salaheddin conveyed that if the ICC pursued the case it could jeopardise relations between Sudan and the UN.
Salaheddin said Sudan did not recognise the ICC's jurisdiction and it would be rallying support among its allies to try to block proceedings. Efforts to indict a sitting head of state would set a dangerous precedent, he said.
"On the allegation of genocide, an international commission sanctioned by the United Nations has come and investigated the situation in Sudan and has concluded that there was no genocide. So genocide is out of the question," he said.