"Neutral Turkmenistan" prides itself on balancing relations with many competing powers. Yet it's hard to know why Sudan's dictator, Omar Al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity, was turned away by Turkmenistan when he sought to fly from Iran to China over Turkmen territory on Monday.
According to reports from Bloomberg and other wire services, Bashir was requested not to fly through Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, because of concerns about the enforcement of the ICC warrant. Tajikistan is a party to the Rome Statute of the ICC; Turkmenistan is not.
Wasil Ali, deputy editor-in-chief of the Sudan Tribune has a different story. In a comment on Twitter June 27, he said, "#Sudan parliament said #tajikistan and #turkmenistan fell under #US pressure to block #Bashir plane #ICC
He said Sudanese newspapers carried reports yesterday about how US fighter jets were supposedly planning to intercept Bashir's plan en route to China. Yet officially, the Sudanese papers said Turkmenistan refused to allow Bashir's plane "due to turbulence" and recommended he take the route across Afghanistan. Reuters also quoted the Foreign Ministry's explanation that the route across Turkmenistan had to be changed, causing the pilot to return.
Turkmenistan had no comment about the incident and it has not been covered by state media.
There is no evidence that the US asked Turkmenistan to turn back Bashir's plane. Ashgabat holds the UN in high regard and would be cooperative with UN requests, but there is no evidence that any UN official made any such request, either. Formally, countries that are party to the ICC are supposed to arrested indicted suspects, but Bashir has travelled to a number of countries without incident.
The delay caused Bashir to be late for his meeting in Beijing, where he was due for talks about the ongoing conflict in Sudan, which has escalated since South Sudan's vote for independence in January.
It's odd -- imagining that Ashgabat could be squeezed between China and the US, and possibly asked to cooperate regarding Bashir's transit to a meeting which Beijing obviously wanted, yet supposedly asked by the US not to allow the dictator to pass through.
It's more than possible that either more mundane reasons were involved, or in fact Ashgabat simply did not want to be caught up in an international conflict it isn't part of, and backed out on its own. Turkmenistan is not known to have had any dealings with Sudan in the past.
After all, it can always invoke its "neutrality," which consists of buying Russian weapons, helping build a railroad with Iran, and accepting American training of border guards and naval officers -- even if it is hardly likely to invoke support for the ICC.