Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court have named the first two individuals they want tried for war crimes in Sudan's Darfur region.
The chief prosecutor Tuesday accused Sudanese official Ahmed Muhammad Harun and militia leader Ali Mohammed Ali Abd-al-Rahman of jointly committing crimes against Darfur's civilian population.
Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Harun helped to recruit and arm Arab militia known as Janjaweed that are accused of carrying out the worst atrocities in the region.
He said Abd-al-Rahman, also known as Ali Kushayb, commanded Janjaweed units and ordered them to victimize civilians through mass rape, killings, and torture.
The prosecutor says civilians were targeted on the rationale that they supported rebel forces in Darfur.
Sudan's justice minister today rejected the allegations. Mohamed Ali al-Mardias repeated the government's stance that the international court has no jurisdiction over Sudanese citizens.
The Sudanese official charged, Harun, is currently Sudan's Humanitarian Affairs Minister. He was a junior minister in charge of the Darfur region at the height of the conflict there in 2003 and 2004.
Human Rights Watch hailed the prosecutor's report as an important first step toward ending the impunity for crimes in Darfur.
The United Nations says fighting in Darfur has killed an estimated 200,000 people and displaced more than two million since 2003.
Sudan has repeatedly denied accusations that it supports the Janjaweed.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.