February 12, 2009 / 3:36 AM / 10 years ago

ICC to indict Sudan's Bashir over Darfur-diplomats

(Adds statement by activist groups, final two paragraphs)

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Judges at the International Criminal Court have decided to indict Sudan’s president for war crimes in Darfur and issue a warrant for his arrest, U.N. diplomats and officials said on Wednesday.

"The ICC decided it wants him arrested," a diplomat at the United Nations told Reuters on condition of anonymity, referring to Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

Some U.N. officials also said they understood that to be the decision by the ICC, based in The Hague. They said it had been widely expected and would be made public later this month.

Last year, chief ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo asked the court’s judges to indict Bashir for orchestrating what he described as a campaign of genocide in Sudan’s western Darfur region that killed 35,000 people in 2003 and at least 100,000 more through starvation and disease.

Khartoum rejects the term genocide and says 10,000 people died in the conflict. U.N. officials say at least 2.5 million were left homeless and put the death toll as high as 300,000.

Sudan has ruled out handing over Bashir or two other Sudanese citizens previously indicted by the court for suspected war crimes in Darfur. But Bashir’s ability to travel outside Sudan will likely become difficult once an international arrest warrant is issued.

An ICC spokeswoman declined to comment, saying the decision was in the hands of the judges. It was not immediately clear whether Bashir had been indicted on all 10 counts of genocide and other war crimes listed by the prosecutor or just some of them.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s office has not been notified by the ICC of its decision, although he expects to receive some form of official notification before the end of the month, diplomats and U.N. officials said.

Khartoum has said it would continue cooperating with U.N. peacekeepers in Sudan even if Bashir is indicted, but has warned there may be widespread demonstrations of public outrage.

‘DIFFICULT SITUATION’

Britain’s Africa minister, Mark Malloch Brown, spoke to reporters on Tuesday as if an ICC indictment of Bashir had already been decided. He also expressed the hope the fragile peace process would continue.

"We will face a very difficult situation after this indictment, and I just hope people of goodwill will go on trying to find ways forward," Malloch Brown said.

Sudan’s U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem, dismissed the decision of the court.

"It will mean nothing to us and doesn’t deserve ink with which it is written," he told Reuters. "We will never be shaken by this criminal attempt to pollute our political life and sabotage our efforts for development and peace."

Some U.N. officials worry the Sudanese government might encourage reprisals against international peacekeepers. Ban said on Tuesday that Bashir and his government must "react very responsibly and ensure safety of (U.N.) peacekeepers."

The secretary-general met Bashir on the sidelines of an African Union summit in Addis Ababa last week.

U.N. officials said blue helmet peacekeepers in Darfur had no mandate to act on ICC arrest warrants in Sudan but would go about their business of protecting civilians there.

The Save Darfur Coalition of over 180 organizations and activist groups issued a statement saying it was time for the world to shun Bashir.

"A regime led by an indicted war criminal cannot possibly be treated as a full member of the community of nations," it said. "The international community must press Sudanese authorities to comply with their obligations to cooperate with the ICC, including executing all outstanding warrants." (Editing by Peter Cooney)




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