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Darfur War Crimes Prosecutor Warns of Dangers

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is moving rapidly to investigate allegations of war crimes in the Darfur region of Sudan. But prosecutors are expressing concerns for their safety as they prepare for the probe.

Chief International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told the Security Council Wednesday his Darfur war crimes investigation has already collected thousands of documents, interviewed 50 witnesses, and found credible evidence of grave crimes, even though the probe is still in a preliminary stage.

But the Argentine prosecutor expressed concern that continuing atrocities and attacks on foreigners in Darfur pose a danger, both to investigators and potential witnesses.

"The information currently available highlights the significant security risks facing civilians, local and international humanitarian personnel in Darfur," said Mr. Moreno-Ocampo. "These issues will present persistent challenges for any genuine investigations, international or national."

Mr. Moreno-Ocampo's briefing was his first since the Council referred the Sudan war crimes case to the new international court on March 31.

Sudanese officials, however, have previously said they would not hand over suspected war criminals to the ICC, and Sudan notified the Council this week that it plans to hold its own war crimes trials. Sudan's ambassador Elfatih Mohamed Erwa said the Khartoum government believes it can handle the cases.

"We are doing our work and we believe in Sudan we should end impunity and we believe any people who commit atrocities should be brought to justice," said Mr. Erwa. "We will do this work and then we will see legally whether the ICC will come."

ICC prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo said Wednesday he will seek the cooperation of Sudanese authorities in bringing suspects to trial. But in any case, he said he would press ahead with his U.N. mandated probe.

"My office will identify those individuals who bear the greatest responsibility for the crimes and assess the admissibility of the selected cases," added Mr. Moreno-Ocampo.

United Nations officials say at least 180,000 people have died since civil war broke out in Darfur early last year. The United States has described the massacres of Darfurian villagers as genocide, and blamed pro-government Arab militias known as janjaweed.

The case was referred to the International Criminal Court on a split vote in a sharply divided Security Council. The United States, which opposes the ICC, abstained, along with China and two other Council members.