TRIPOLI - Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, wanted internationally for genocide and war crimes, said on Saturday in Tripoli that slain dictator Moamer Gaddafi caused great suffering among the Sudanese people.

His arrival in Tripoli marked Bashir's first Libya visit since Gaddafi was ousted, but the trip faced strong criticism from New York-based Human Rights Group, which said that hosting such an "international fugitive" sent troubling signals about the commitment of Libya's new rulers to human rights.

Wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of genocide and war crimes in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region, Bashir said that after Libya, Gaddafi inflicted the most damage in Sudan, the official WAL news agency reported.

"We all suffered from the old regime... We (the Sudanese) were the second to have suffered the most, after the Libyan people," Bashir told WAL.

Upon arrival in Tripoli, the Sudanese leader was met by Libya's Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the National Transitional Council (NTC), and members of the interim government, an AFP photographer reported.

Bashir, who claims that Sudan provided weapons to help oust Gaddafi, said the visit felt "like it was the first time," adding that he came to underline Sudan's support for the Libyan people and the country's new government that took charge after Gaddafi's four-decade dictatorship fell.

Khartoum's relationship with Gaddafi's Libya was uneasy. The former Libyan leader poured arms across the border into Darfur and long sought greater influence in Sudan's ravaged western region.

Bashir has claimed that a deadly 2008 attack on Khartoum by the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the most heavily-armed Darfur rebel group, was financed by the Libyan government and fought with Libyan weapons.

In 2010, Gaddafi's regime offered sanctuary to JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim, who was killed in Sudan last month after his return to the country.

Libya's presence was felt in a different way in the capital Khartoum, where state-run Lafico, the Libyan Foreign Investment Company, spent 130 million euros (190 million dollars) building the Burj al-Fateh Hotel, which opened in 2008. With its egg-shaped design, Sudan's flashiest accommodation became a city landmark.

Gaddafi was killed on October 20 when rebels seized his last bastion. He was wanted by the Hague-based ICC for suspected crimes against humanity committed during his attempted suppression of the revolt that erupted last February.

The ICC also issued an arrest warrant for Bashir in 2009, for alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur, with genocide subsequently added to the list of charges.

Court spokesman Fadi el-Abdallah declined to comment on Bashir being welcomed in Libya, when contacted by AFP.

But Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch, strongly criticised his visit to Libya.

"Omar al-Bashir is an international fugitive from an arrest warrant for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes," Dicker told AFP by telephone from New York.

"Many governments have refused him entry into their countries. His arrival in Tripoli sends a disturbing signal about NTC's commitment to human rights and the rule of law."

Dicker said the rule of law should take precedence over political ties.

"Whatever the political history and ties between the NTC and Omar al-Bashir in the past, respect for human rights, not to mention concerns for hundreds of thousands of Darfur victims, takes priority," he said.

"This is what adhering to the rule of law is all about."

Libya is not legally bound to arrest Bashir as it is not a signatory to the ICC's founding Rome Statute.

But Dicker said that "the UN Security Council has urged all UN member states to cooperate with the ICC in its Darfur investigation."

In November 2010, when Gaddafi was still in power, Bashir pulled out of the Africa-EU summit in Libya that he was slated to attend.

During his present two-day visit, Bashir will hold talks with the NTC on "issues of mutual interest", Sudan's official SUNA news agency reported.