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The World

World court accuses 2 in Darfur atrocities

February 28, 2007|Maggie Farley and Edmund Sanders | Times Staff Writers

UNITED NATIONS — A top Sudanese government official colluded with militias to commit atrocities against civilians in the Darfur region, the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor said Tuesday.

Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo presented results of a 21-month investigation that he said showed "reasonable evidence" that Ahmed Haroun, then state minister for the interior, and imprisoned militia leader Ali Kushayb, "bear criminal responsibility" for mass executions, rapes and the forcible removal of thousands of people from their homes.

The allegations, which are not an indictment, are a first step that could lead to arrests and prosecutions by the court at The Hague, and they come amid an international campaign to halt the violence in Darfur, which has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced 2.5 million in the last four years.

Prosecution, however, will not be easy. Sudan's justice minister immediately rejected the allegations and said the suspects would not be handed over for trial.

Haroun is Sudan's state minister for humanitarian affairs. Kushayb, whose real name is Ali Mohammed Ali Abdalrahman, has been under arrest in Khartoum, the capital, since November, on unspecified charges.

"The court has no jurisdiction to try any Sudanese for any alleged crimes," Justice Minister Mohammed Ali Mardi said. Sudan is not a signatory to the treaty that created the International Criminal Court and says it will not respect the court's decisions.

If the Sudanese government refuses to cooperate with the ICC, Tuesday's announcement could be the beginning of a long judicial process for the fledgling international court. Its judges can issue a warrant for the men's arrest, but if Sudan decides to prosecute them for the same crimes under its own judicial system, the international court would no longer have jurisdiction.

"I have no assurance of cooperation," Moreno-Ocampo said in a conference call with journalists. "We know it is a difficult challenge."

He added that in previous cases, a summons was sufficient to get the suspects to appear in court.

Human rights groups have pressed the court to assign blame with the president and army chiefs.

Moreno-Ocampo said that additional suspects could be named later but that his team for now had gone after those it could clearly link to crimes against humanity.

The investigation focused on militia attacks on four towns in Darfur, in western Sudan, from August 2003 to March 2004.

As head of the "Darfur security desk," Haroun coordinated the recruitment, arming and funding of militiamen known as janjaweed, the prosecution document says. It quotes Haroun as saying during a public meeting that he had been given "all the power and authority to kill or forgive whoever in Darfur for the sake of peace and security," and shows that he directed the militiamen to attack villages.

A member of Haroun's office said the state minister was in Khartoum but unavailable for comment.

Ali Kushayb, a commander of thousands of militia fighters in Darfur, issued orders "to victimize the civilian populations" through mass rapes, killings, torture, looting and the displacement of residents, the court said in a statement.

Moreno-Ocampo said witnesses had testified that Kushayb personally participated in the execution of 32 men in Mukjar, and that his fighters tied women to trees and raped them repeatedly.

Sudanese government officials called the ICC accusations politically motivated and were preparing to organize mass demonstrations.

"The whole thing is counterproductive," a senior official in Khartoum said. "They are just trying to put pressure on the government. The rebels committed atrocities. The government committed atrocities. But we are still in the situation of war. All other tribunals like this took place after the war was over. The issue of justice should come after the peace."

The pending indictments have been a factor in ongoing talks with Khartoum about whether United Nations peacekeeping troops will be allowed in Darfur. Sudan's negotiators have questioned whether U.N. troops would be used to enforce court arrest warrants or to pursue suspects.

Cameron Hume, the U.S. charge d'affaires in Sudan, urged all sides to not allow the court's accusations to interfere with efforts to resolve the crisis. Like Sudan, the U.S. does not recognize the authority of the ICC.

"The urgent thing is improving the humanitarian situation and protecting the humanitarian operations, and having a political dialogue that leads to peace," Hume said.

In an attempt to appease the international community, Sudan created a special court in 2005 to try suspects accused of war crimes in Darfur.

A handful were put on trial in Nyala, accused of being militia members.

"It was a mockery," said Adam Azzain Mohammed, head of the University of Khartoum's Institute for the Studies of Public Administration and Federal Governance. "They only tried ordinary people who had nothing to do with the real clashes."

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