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U.N. council says Sudan must heed court on Darfur

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Sudan must stop turning a blind eye to crimes committed during the conflict in Darfur and hand over suspected war criminals to the International Criminal Court, the U.N. Security Council said on Monday.

“The council urges the government of Sudan and all other parties to the conflict in Darfur to fully cooperate with the court, consistent with resolution 1593 (from 2005), in order to put an end to impunity for crimes committed in Darfur,” the council said in a unanimously approved statement.

Judges at the ICC, set up in 2002 in The Hague as the world’s first permanent court to try individuals for war crimes, issued arrest warrants for two Sudanese suspects in April last year but Khartoum has refused to hand them over.

ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo told the Security Council on June 5 that Sudan was not cooperating with the ICC and was taking no action of its own against the two, government minister Ahmad Harun and militia commander Ali Kushayb.

Instead, he said, Sudanese officials had waged an “organized campaign ... to attack civilians” in Darfur. Moreno Ocampo said he would present ICC judges in July with evidence implicating further Sudanese officials in Darfur crimes.

Libya had opposed the original wording of the statement and only agreed to support it after the language was watered down to support an “end to impunity” instead of explicitly demanding compliance with ICC arrest warrants, council diplomats said.

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They said China most likely supported the statement on Sudan to avoid drawing more unnecessary attention to its close ties with Sudan ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem told Reuters by telephone from Khartoum that the council statement had not changed his country’s position on the ICC.

“There is no way we are going to hand over anybody,” he said, adding that the Sudanese judicial system was capable of bringing any Sudanese war criminals to justice.

SHIFT IN U.S. ATTITUDE?

Khartoum has refused to cooperate with the ICC because it, like the United States, is not a party to the court. But U.S. officials say Sudan has no choice but to cooperate with it as required by council resolution 1593, which is legally binding.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who currently holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council, insisted that U.S. support for the council statement does not mean Washington has altered its position on the court.

But Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said there has been a noticeable shift in the U.S. approach to the court.

“This support for justice marks a further break from Washington’s previously ill-conceived and highly ideological opposition to the ICC,” he told reporters, adding that Washington’s previous approach had been an anti-ICC “jihad.”

Dicker also said the statement showed a tougher line by the Security Council towards Khartoum, which he said has been trying to “obstruct justice by recycling unkept promises to accept peacekeepers.”

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 insistence that most of them be from African countries.

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

Editing by Bill Trott

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