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Concern Grows at UN for Peacekeepers, Staff in Sudan

U.N. officials and members of the Security Council have expressed concern about the safety of U.N. personnel and peacekeepers in Sudan, after the International Criminal Court at The Hague said it would charge top Sudanese officials with war crimes related to the conflict in Darfur. From United Nation's headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Thursday, the court's top prosecutor said he would announce charges on Monday against officials in the Sudanese government. It is widely believed he will seek an arrest warrant for President Omar Al-Bashir and perhaps his vice president or other senior officials on charges of planning the genocide in Darfur which has killed as many as 300,000 people over the last five years.

At the United Nations Friday, the Security Council received a closed-door briefing from top peacekeeping official Jean-Marie Guehenno on the attack earlier this week in Darfur that killed seven peacekeepers from the force known as UNAMID.

Guehenno told the council that the attack, 100 kilometers southeast of ElFasher, took place in an area under Sudanese government control and that some of the assailants were dressed in clothing similar to Sudanese army uniforms. He also said the ambush was "pre-meditated and well-organized" and was intended to inflict casualties rather than to steal equipment or vehicles.

The Sudanese government has blamed rebels from the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) for the attack.

Peacekeepers reported seeing about 200 fighters on horses and in 40 vehicles, which were mounted with machine guns and equipment not normally used by irregular militias.

The ambush killed seven peacekeepers and wounded 19 others. The attack has raised concerns that the some 40-thousand U.N. personnel and peacekeepers in Sudan could be exposed to retaliatory attacks should President Bashir be indicted by the International Criminal Court. "Definitely. It is one of the implications we have to consider," said China's Ambassador Wang Guangya.

French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert said contingency plans for the security of international personnel in Sudan should be considered. "We have to be aware of the effects it could have on the ground, and we are inclined of course to take some contingency planning measures for the safety of everybody, and I think the U.N. has to do the same. And we are urging everybody on the ground - especially the Sudanese authorities who are responsible for the safety of the U.N. people on the ground - to let the UNAMID operate for the sake of the people there," he said.

The Sudanese government has said it will continue its policy of not cooperating with the International Criminal Court, no matter who is named as a suspect. The government has also warned that the ICC's actions could undermine the peace process in Darfur. A concern echoed by China's ambassador. "I believe, of course, that impunity is an issue. But more important for the Security Council is how can we maintain the momentum and overcome all the difficulties in order to help the peace process move forward."

He said the impact of the charges could play out in several different ways, none of which he believed would be positive.

The International Criminal Court is an independent court that investigates and prosecutes persons accused of the most serious crimes - namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.