(Adds reaction from rebels, former rebels, paragraph 8-12)
By Aziz El-Kaissouni
KHARTOUM, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Sudan said on Tuesday the International Criminal Court had no jurisdiction to try its citizens for crimes in Darfur, and said one of the two ICC suspects named has been in custody in Khartoum for months.
Sudan’s justice minister, speaking shortly after the ICC named the first two suspects it wants tried for war crimes in Darfur, also dismissed the court’s evidence as lies concocted by those fighting the state.
"The court has no jurisdiction to try any Sudanese for any alleged crimes," Justice Minister Mohamed Ali al-Mardi told a news conference in Khartoum.
"(Our) stance is not limited to those who fight on the government’s side but applies to all Sudanese, including those who still bear arms and fight the government. They are Sudanese, and we will not let them be tried by any court outside Sudan."
ICC prosecutors asked pre-trial judges on Tuesday to issue summonses for the first two Darfur war crimes suspects: former interior minister of state Ahmed Haroun and militia commander Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-al-Rahman, also known as Ali Kushayb.
In a 94-page filing, ICC prosecutors accused the two of criminal responsibility related to 51 counts of alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in 2003 and 2004.
Experts say some 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million others driven from homes in Darfur since the conflict flared in 2003 when rebels took up arms against the government, charging it with neglect. Khartoum says 9,000 people have died.
"All the evidence the prosecutor referred to is lies given to him by people who bear arms against the state, bear arms against citizens and kill innocent citizens in Darfur," Mardi said.
A spokesman for the former rebel Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), the only rebel faction to sign a May peace accord with the government, described the ICC move as "historic" for Darfur.
"This process of bringing the people who perpetrated crimes in Darfur to justice ... is a historic moment for us and for our families in Darfur," said Al-Tayyib Khamis.
He added that if the ICC charged any SLM commanders with crimes, the movement would hand them over for trial immediately.
But the commander of one the largest non-signatory rebel factions said while the ICC announcement was an important step, the two names were "a drop in the ocean".
"They were executives, but there are more people who planned ... genocide and ethnic cleansing in Darfur, and the blood of Darfur cannot have been spilled in vain," said Jar el-Neby, commander of a breakaway arm of the SLM.
ICC suspect Haroun is currently Sudan’s minister of state for humanitarian affairs. Prosecutors said Kushayb was a Janjaweed militia commander who led attacks on towns and villages where dozens of people were killed.
Mardi said both of the men had already been questioned by Khartoum, and Kushayb has been in Sudanese custody since November on suspicion of violating Sudanese laws and was under investigation for actions in Darfur.
But Mardi denied that Kushayb was part of the pro-government Janjaweed, which U.N. and African Union observers blame for the worst atrocities in Darfur.
"Ali Kushayb, along with two other individuals, was sent for trial. ... He was detained as a suspect, questioned, his statements were evaluated and witness statements recorded, and then the decision was taken to refer him to court," Mardi said.
Sudanese media have reported Khartoum would try a number of people next week, including military personnel and paramilitary troops, for alleged involvement in attacks in Darfur.
But Mardi said there was no basis to charge Haroun, based on Haroun’s statements and witness testimony. Haroun’s office said he was in Jordan for medical treatment, but would return to Sudan shortly.
The ICC is only supposed to prosecute when national courts are unwilling or unable to act. Rights groups say Sudan’s own investigations in Darfur have been largely for show.