BEIJING (Reuters) - Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir failed to show up on time on Monday in the Chinese capital for talks with his country's most powerful patron, a problem attributed to a change in the flight plan of his aircraft.
Bashir, who faces indictment from the International Criminal Court over war crimes, had been due to arrive in Beijing early on Monday for talks that will focus on Sudan's impending split into two countries.
Sudan's Foreign Ministry, in a statement published by the state news agency SUNA, said Bashir's arrival had been delayed because of a change in flight path over Turkmenistan.
"The arrival of Omar al-Bashir ... to the Chinese capital, which was expected yesterday evening, was delayed," it said.
"This was due to a change in the presidential plane's path above Turkmenistan's territory at a time when it was not possible to cross on a new path, which obliged the pilot to return to Iran." The news agency added that the Chinese and Sudanese embassies in Tehran were monitoring developments. It also said a new route had been found and it was expected Bashir would arrive in Beijing later on Monday.
Chinese Foreign Ministry officials said earlier they were unsure of the reason for the delay.
"We don't know," said a Chinese worker at the Sudanese embassy in Beijing, when asked about the delay. Sudanese diplomats at the embassy were not available to comment.
"It is murky, and in some ways the Turkmenistan connection deepens the confusion further. But I think it's still hugely unlikely that it is a deliberate snub," said Jamie Ingram, Africa analyst at IHS Global Insight.
"If the Sudanese were to abandon the trip altogether, I think that would be taken badly by Beijing and that would probably be unwise for Sudan. China is a very important relationship for them and Beijing could take a much more pro-South Sudan line which would be bad for Khartoum."
Bashir had been scheduled to have talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao late in the afternoon. But Chinese Foreign Ministry officials said events would be postponed and rescheduled.
Analysts have said Bashir is likely to use his four-day visit to China to reassure Chinese leaders that their investments and energy stake in Sudan will not be threatened by the north-south split of his country scheduled for July 9.
Before leaving Khartoum, Bashir told Chinese media the impending split risked triggering "time bombs," but said his government's bond with China would not be shaken by Beijing's courting of the secessionist south.
Beijing has been building ties with the emerging state in southern Sudan but continues to be one of the major supporters of Bashir, who faces indictment from the International Criminal Court over war crimes charges stemming from long-running fighting in the Darfur region.
China's special envoy for Africa affairs and former envoy to Sudan's conflict-torn Darfur region, Liu Guijin, told reporters last week that China had "done a lot of work to persuade" the north to implement the peace agreement and referendum.
Khartoum seized the main town in the north-south border region of Abyei on May 21, raising fears the two sides could return to conflict. But Sudan's military and the south's Sudan People's Liberation Army last week agreed to withdraw their forces in favor of Ethiopian peacekeepers.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley and Tyra Dempster in BEIJING, Alexander Dziadosz in KHARTOUM, Parisa Hafezi in TEHRAN and Peter Apps in LONDON; Editing by Ben Blanchard and Robert Birsel)