AMSTERDAM International Criminal Court judges issued their first arrest warrants for suspects accused of war crimes in Sudan's Darfur region, the ICC said on Wednesday, but Sudan refused to hand over the men.
The warrants were issued for Ahmed Haroun, former state minister of interior, and militia commander Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-al-Rahman, also know as Ali Kushayb.
Judges said there were "reasonable grounds to believe" the two were responsible for murder, rape, and torture, as well as the forced displacement of villagers, and other war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, the court said.
Haroun is currently Sudan's state humanitarian affairs minister, a post below full ministerial level.
Sudan's Justice Minister Mohamed Ali Al-Mardi told Reuters Khartoum would not hand over the suspects.
"We do not recognize the International Criminal Court ... and we will not hand over any Sudanese even from the rebel groups who take up weapons against the government," he said.
Asked if Sudan could even cooperate with the ICC on the issue, Foreign Minister Lam Akol said: "The Sudan government has cooperated enough with it (ICC) in the early stages, but now they reached a stage of issuing warrants and I don't think the government will be bound (to cooperate.)"
Prosecutors named the men in February as the first suspects in their investigations into the conflict, in which 200,000 people have been killed since it began in 2003 when rebels took up arms against the government.
"The government of the Sudan has a legal duty to arrest Ahmed Haroun and Ali Kushayb," ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said in a statement.
Sudan countered the rebellion by arming militias, who have been accused of atrocities in the conflict. Khartoum denies arming so-called Janjaweed militia, calling them outlaws.
Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch welcomed the arrest warrants. "These warrants put the burden on the Khartoum leadership to co-operate and any failure to do so will only increase their isolation on the international stage," he said.
In a 94-page filing in February, ICC prosecutors said Haroun conspired with Kushayb, allegedly a Janjaweed commander who led attacks in which dozens were killed, to commit the crimes.
Sudan says the ICC has no jurisdiction to try its citizens for crimes in Darfur, and in February announced it would try Kushayb itself on unspecified charges related to Darfur. His case was delayed in March.
"Haroun and Kushayb will be in the dock -- maybe in two months or in two years -- but they will be there," Moreno-Ocampo told Reuters.
Earlier this year U.N. human rights commissioner Louise Arbour said she hoped the ICC's action would be a "strong deterrent" against more bloodshed.
The Darfur special court was formed after a U.N. Security Council resolution referred Darfur's conflict to the ICC in early 2005, the first such referral.
Sudan has signed but not ratified the treaty which formed the ICC. The ICC cannot indict nationals who have been given free and fair trials in their own countries.
The ICC, the world's first permanent war crimes court, started work in 2002 and is now supported by 104 nations, although still not by Russia, China and the United States.
It has one suspect in its custody, Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga, who is accused of recruiting child soldiers.
But a further five warrants issued in 2005 for leaders of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army have failed to yield arrests.
(Additional reporting by Alaa Shahine in Khartoum)