BLANTYRE--Malawian President Joyce Banda on Thursday said she respects the African Union's (AU) decision to move next month's summit to Ethiopia.
"I respect that decision. I respect Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir as head of state of Sudan, but I as President Joyce Banda, my main agenda right now is economic recovery," Banda told reporters on her return from visits to Britain and the USA.
Pres Banda will not attend the summit, instead Vice Pres Khumbo Kachali will represent Malawi. Last Friday Malawi decided to cancel the summit, scheduled for Lilongwe between July 9 and 16, over AU's insistence that Lilongwe has no right to dictate who attends the summit.
Pres Banda had earlier written the AU commission requesting it not to invite al-Bashir wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over atrocities in the Sudanese western region of Darfur. Banda asked Sudan to send a representative in order to maintain ties with donor countries, who contribute up to 40 percent of her country's development budget.
But the AU Commission wrote Malawi that all African leaders are eligible to attend and the host country cannot bar anyone. If Malawi insisted, AU warned, the summit would be switched to its headquarters in the Ethiopian capital.
Banda said the AU didn’t support Malawi when donors pulled out of the country after al-Bashir visited the country last year to attend a regional trade summit and where Mutharika gave Bashir red-carpet treatment.
"How did the AU support us and who lost? We lost in the end," Banda said in reference to the withdrawal of $350 million from the American Millennium Challenge Corporation meant to rehabilitate the country's power system.
She said Malawi had "closed the issue" on al-Bashir, adding that the decision to cancel the hosting of the summit was made in the "interests of Malawi and Malawians."
Malawi recognises the ICC, which has a warrant of arrest for Bashir on war crimes. Under current ICC rules, signatories -- which include Malawi and 32 other African states -- have a duty to arrest Bashir.
An ICC prosecutor has told the UN Security Council that failure to detain him and other Sudanese officials accused of war crimes and genocide was "a direct challenge to the council's authority."
Bashir is the first sitting president indicted by the court and his visits trigger off diplomatic headaches for African nations, with some signatories vowing his arrest on their soil while others thumb their noses at the court's rules.
Malawi was reported to the council in December for dissing the ICC over Bashir last year. In 2009, the AU said it wouldn't respect the ICC warrant and urged the United Nations to suspend the arrest order.
Meanwhile, Botswana has thrown its weight behind Malawi accusing AU of exerting undue pressure on the southern African country to host al-Bashir.
"Botswana therefore condemns this action as it is inconsistent with the very fundamental principles of democracy, human rights and good governance espoused by the AU and which Malawi upholds," reads a statement issued in Gaborone Wednesday. "It is our considered view that Malawi as a sovereign state has the right to make decisions it may deem necessary in fulfillment of her obligations under both the Rome Statute and the AU."
The statement said Botswana would take up the issue at the Addis indaba
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