Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir escaped South Africa late Monday, just before he was due to be tried for war crimes in Darfur.
Bashir arrived in Johannesburg on Sunday for an African Union (AU) conference, and reportedly was given a warm reception despite a warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his arrest.
After some controversy over his reception, Pretoria acquiesced to the ICC Monday and barred the Sudanese leader from leaving South Africa pending an application to arrest him – a move followed hours later by Bashir stating to the media that he was leaving. Hours later, he left South Africa on his private jet, to national and international outcry.
Amid a loud silence from South African government officials regarding the escape, the African Mail and Guardian suggests Friday that Bashir escaped with help – from none other than the government itself.
President Jacob Zuma and several top-level officials helped Bashir exit covertly, according to the extensive report, which cites an anonymous official.
According to the Mail and Guardian, Zuma orchestrated Bashir's escape by ensuring the private plane took off from the Waterkloof Air Force Base, which is controlled by the South African National Defense Force; Zuma is commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
Government representatives later said that Bashir's name was omitted from the flight plan – but also noted that it was codenamed Sudan01, indicating that he was on board.
Representatives from Zuma's ANC party said the move to aid Bashir was an act of choosing the African Union (AU) – which has accused the ICC before of discriminating against African officials – over the ICC.
According to local South African news site News24, AU chief and Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe also told journalists at the end of Sunday's conference that Zuma had pledged not to arrest Bashir.
ANC reportedly has pledged before to withdraw South Africa's signature on the Rome Statute, which would guarantee the country's resignation from the ICC.