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Concern Arises Over Implications of New ICC Indictments on Darfur

As the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor prepares to issue new arrest warrants in an investigation into the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan, there is growing speculation that Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir will himself be targeted. But as Derek Kilner reports from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi, many observers fear the consequences that such a move might have on the security situation on the ground, as well as for peace efforts to end the conflict.

The International Criminal Court, or ICC, issued a statement Thursday, that Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo would on Monday present new evidence on crimes committed in Darfur and announce new indictments of one or more individuals. Nobody has yet been named, but many expect President Omar al-Bashir himself will be the target.

Some activists say such a move would be welcome, increasing pressure on Sudan's president to change his government's policies in Darfur.

But many observers of the conflict are concerned about the ramifications of such a move. Issaka Souare, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, says an indictment of President al-Bashir or other top officials could make peace efforts more difficult.

"One cannot overestimate the implications of such a move on the situation in Darfur," said Souare. "It will one, make it difficult for mediators to engage the Sudanese authorities who are already reluctant to cooperate on certain issues with the mediators. You will then have given the authorities in Sudan another excuse for not engaging with the mediator and the international community. You do not sign up to a peace agreement just to find yourself incarcerated."

Peace efforts over the past two years have achieved little, complicated by a growing number rebel factions among other problems, and show little indication of getting back on track any time soon.

But perhaps of more concern, is the effect that new indictments could have on the ground in Darfur.

"It might also lead to some sort of reprisals against peacekeepers on the ground or an exacerbation of the armed conflict situation. So one cannot doubt the possible implications should it turn out to be the case, on the ground in Darfur," said Souare.

Earlier this week, seven peacekeepers from the joint U.N.-African Union force were killed in an ambush. The identity of the attackers is not yet known, but some observers fear that the gunmen may have belonged to the government-backed Janjaweed militia, since the government is worried that peacekeepers could be used to carry out ICC warrants.

The peacekeeping force has been able to deploy fewer than 10,000 of its projected 26,000 personnel. U.N. officials and humanitarian workers have expressed concern about the security of their operations if top officials are indicted.

So far, two Sudanese citizens are wanted by the ICC. Ali Kushayb is a leader of the Janjaweed, and Ahmad Haroun is Sudan's minister for humanitarian affairs. Sudan has refused to cooperate with the ICC, and government spokesman Rabie Atti says that policy will continue.

"There is a concrete decision," he said. "No Sudanese citizen or a minister or a president will be handed to the ICC. And this is final. Whether this is al-Bashir, or the minister of humanitarian issues, or minister of interior, or just a simple man going in the street. This has already been decided."

The conflict in Darfur has killed between 200,000 and 300,000 people since 2003, and displaced over two million, according to U.N. estimates.