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Sudan Rejects Calls for International War Crimes Tribunal on Darfur


Sudan has told the U.N. Security Council prosecuting Darfur war crimes is an internal matter, and should be done only after fighting in the region is ended. The Council remains deeply divided over the question of how to bring perpetrators of Darfur's war crimes to justice.

In a joint Security Council appearance Tuesday, Sudanese vice-president Ali Osman Taha, southern rebel leader John Garang and special U.N. envoy Jan Pronk painted a horrific picture of the continuing bloodshed in Darfur. Mr. Pronk described conditions as dismal, and said six months of negotiating had led nowhere. He told the Council, "we urgently need a breakthrough". "Fighting on the ground continues. The ceasefire has not been kept. Those responsible for atrocious crimes on a massive scale go unpunished. Militias continue to attack, claiming they are not part of any agreement. The government has not stopped them," he said.

The Security Council has also failed to come up with a solution that would stop the killing and bring the perpetrators to justice. Since a commission of inquiry concluded last month that war crimes no less serious than genocide had been committed in Darfur, diplomats have been debating competing proposals for a war crimes tribunal

Secretary-General Kofi Annan and several Security Council member countries favor referring the case to the International Criminal Court. The United States, which opposes the I.C.C., has proposed using a tribunal set up in Tanzania to try Rwandan genocide cases.

But Sudan's vice-president Taha told the Council Tuesday that his county's judicial system is capable of handling the prosecutions. "We are here to persuade the Security Council to see the wisdom and rationale in bringing those accused to trial in Sudan. We believe there are no grounds to warrant taking suspects outside the country, and we feel such an action would very much help pushing things down, to degenerate, rather than help people reconcile or maintain peace," he said.

The rebel leader, Mr. Garang said he agreed that Arab militias known as janjaweed, who are accused of ethnic cleansing in Darfur must be prosecuted. But he argued that the trials should be delayed until the fighting stops. "The Janjaweed militia should be reined in and those among them who are eventually proven to have committed serious crimes and atrocities, eventually punished. After peace is achieved in Darfur, not before, as that would be putting the Cart before the horse, in which case both the cart and the horse would go nowhere," he said.

Mr. Garang, who is to become a vice-president in a new Sudanese government, has suggested formation of a 30-thousand strong peacekeeping force including 10-thousand African Union troops, 10-thousand Sudanese government troops, and 10-thousand members of his Sudan People's Liberation Army.

He said he is encouraged that the north-south accord he and vice-president Taha negotiated could be used as the basis for settling conflicts in Darfur and in eastern Sudan. "Despite what remains a grim picture in Darfur, there is reason to believe, and I am optimistic, that the comprehensive peace agreement signed on January ninth has now considerably improved prospects for resolution of the Darfur conflict," he said.

As they searched for a way to address the Sudan issue Tuesday, Security Council diplomats privately admitted that estimates of the number killed in Darfur may be understated.

The United Nations has put the figure at about 70-thousand, while saying at the same time that as many as 10-thousand a month may be dying. Several doctors and other experts have suggested the actual figure may be several times higher.

The U.S. special envoy for war crimes issues Pierre Richard Prosper briefed Council diplomats Tuesday on Washington's war crimes tribunal proposal. Afterward, he told reporters he had no account of the number killed, but said the key is to recognize that a response is needed now to ensure effective accountability.

Diplomats say they do not expect any Security Council action on Sudan before the end of this month.

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