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International Criminal Court Launches Darfur Investigation

The International Criminal Court has launched a formal investigation into crimes committed in the war-torn Darfur region of western Sudan.

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, issued a statement Monday promising that the ICC's investigation would be "impartial and independent," focusing on the individuals who bear the greatest criminal responsibility for crimes committed in Darfur.

Charges could include war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly even genocide for crimes that were alleged to have taken place during Darfur's two-year conflict. Tens-of-thousands of people have died and more than 1.5 million have been displaced.

"Well, the goal in mind is to play a part in trying to put an end to the violence in Darfur and promote justice," explained the chief prosecutor's spokesman, Yves Sorokobi. "Based on the evidence that we collect during the investigation, if we determine that certain people must be held accountable in the court of law, then the prosecutor will make the appropriate request to have those people arrested and presented before the judges of the ICC."

A two-year United Nations special inquiry into the Darfur situation identified murder, torture, rape and plunder as some of the crimes committed in the region.

That inquiry named 51 suspects of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Earlier this year, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan handed the list over to the ICC.

Mr. Sorokobi did not give a time frame for the investigation. He said cooperation is key to the chief prosecutor's work.

"[The chief prosecutor] has called on the authorities of Sudan and international authorities, including the African Union and private citizens all over the world, anybody who can contribute by providing information and cooperating with the court, to step forward and do so," he said.

The Sudanese government has vigorously opposed bringing the Darfur case to the International Criminal Court. President Omar el-Bashir said in April that the Sudanese government would refuse to hand any Sudanese over to an international jurisdiction.

Those involved in the Darfur fighting include troops from the Sudanese government, two rebel groups, and a militia, called janjaweed, that many say is allied to the government.

Past investigations by human rights groups and others point the finger largely at the janjaweed and government troops for committing crimes in Darfur.

The United States initially threatened to block the Darfur case from reaching the International Criminal Court because of U.S. objections to the court. But Washington later agreed to support the move under certain conditions.