Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on Monday made a surprise visit to neighboring Eritrea, despite a standing International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant against him for alleged war crimes in Sudan's troubled Darfur region.

Television coverage of al-Bashir's Eritrea visit showed the Sudanese President being received at the airport in the Eritrean capital of Asmara by his counterpart President Isaias Afwerki. Later in the day, Sudanese television showed live images of al-Bashir returning to Khartoum after his Eritrea visit.

Though Sudanese and Eritrean officials said that al-Bashir's Eritrean visit was for discussing some matters of regional security, it is widely believed that the visit was meant as a message to the international community that the ICC arrest warrant would not prevent the Sudanese President from stepping out of his country.

Al-Bashir is also scheduled to attend the Arab League summit on March 27 in Qatar, which incidentally is not an ICC signatory. Though the Arab League has publicly stated that al-Bashir would be welcome at the summit, the public opinion in Sudan is against him traveling out of the country over fears of his arrest abroad.

Al-Bashir's trip to Eritrea on Monday was his first foreign travel after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for his arrest on 4th March for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

The ICC arrest warrant marks the first such action against a sitting head of state, and it came despite a warning from the Sudanese government and the African Union that any such action by the ICC will disrupt the ongoing UN peace efforts in the troubled Darfur region.

UN estimates that some 300,000 people have been killed and over 2.7 million others displaced in Darfur after ethnic Africans there took up arms against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum in 2003 to fight discrimination.

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