ICC prosecutor to open new Sudan case next week

Fri Jul 11, 2008 3:24am EDT

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By Emma Thomasson

AMSTERDAM, July 10 (Reuters) - The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is poised to seek the arrest of top Sudanese officials -- possibly even the president -- on Monday as he opens a new war crimes case on Darfur.

The prosecution said in a statement on Thursday Luis Moreno-Ocampo would submit to the judges "evidence on crimes committed in the whole of Darfur over the last five years" and seek to charge an individual or individuals but gave no details.

Sudan has said any such move could undermine the peace process in Darfur and aid officials fear a potential backlash. The Darfur investigation also could embarrass China, Sudan's close ally, just weeks before the start of the Beijing Olympics.

The Washington Post reported the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor will seek an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, charging him with genocide and crimes against humanity, citing U.N. officials and diplomats.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declined to say who would be named or what the consequences might be for the struggling U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, which lost seven soldiers in an attack by unidentified militia on Tuesday.

"Peace without justice cannot be sustainable," he told a news conference at the United Nations. "I will have to assess all the situations when there will be an announcement by the ICC."

Moreno-Ocampo said last month Sudan's "entire state apparatus" was involved in an organized campaign to attack civilians in Darfur and said he would present judges with evidence implicating senior Sudanese officials in July.

ICC judges issued arrest warrants for two Sudanese suspects last year -- government minister Ahmad Harun and militia commander Ali Kushayb. Khartoum has refused to hand them over, saying Sudanese courts can handle any war criminals.

International experts say at least 200,000 people have died in Darfur and 2.5 million have been displaced since a rebellion erupted in 2003. Khartoum says 10,000 people have been killed.

Moreno-Ocampo told the U.N. Security Council in June that Sudan was not cooperating with the ICC and was taking no action of its own against the two and he planned a new case.

His office said he would hold a news conference at 1 p.m. (1100 GMT) on Monday when he would "summarize the evidence, the crimes and name individual(s) charged."

'OVER MY DEAD BODY'

Speculation is rife that he could even target Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who has said Sudan would cooperate with the ICC over his dead body.

Sources in the aid community in Sudan say security is being increased ahead of Monday's expected announcement and preparations made for non-essential staff to leave Darfur.

Judges probably will take several weeks or even months to rule on the likely application for new arrest warrants.

Alex de Waal, a Sudan expert from the New York-based Social Science Research Council, warned that going after top Sudanese leaders could embolden rebels in Darfur and reignite conflict.

"Bashir is somebody who is proud, prone to anger and emotional outbursts, who responds to humiliation with rage," he said. "The prospects for him responding very aggressively are very real, as are the prospects for polarization and bloodshed."

Abdelmahmood Abdalhaleem, Sudan's permanent representative to the United Nations, called the prosecutor "irresponsible."

"We are not afraid of Ocampo's threats," he told Reuters.

"If he was to name our president then he is under obligation to name the 40 million citizens of Sudan because the 40 million citizens firmly reject this blackmailing."

Only about 9,000 troops and police out of a planned 26,000 U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force have been deployed in Darfur, partly due to Sudan's fears they could be used by the ICC to enforce its arrest warrants.

China has advised Sudan to cooperate with U.N. efforts to resolve the Darfur crisis but has faced Western criticism as Khartoum's biggest arms supplier and for not using its oil and investment stakes to press harder for an end to the conflict.

Set up in 2002 in The Hague as the world's first permanent war crimes court, the ICC is also investigating crimes in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic, but has only four people in custody, all from Congo. (Additional reporting by Opheera McDoom in Khartoum and Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations; editing by Todd Eastham and Bill Trott) (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/ )







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