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Sudan Holds Militia Leader Wanted by International Court


Sudan has announced it is detaining a militia leader who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes committed in the country's western Darfur region. Derek Kilner reports from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi.

Ali Mohamed Abdel-Rahman, better known as Ali Kushayb, was charged by the International Criminal Court in early 2007 with 50 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity as a commander of the Janjaweed militia in the conflict in Darfur.

The Sudanese government has repeatedly rejected handing over to the ICC either Kushayb, or Humanitarian Affairs Minister Ahmed Haroun, who is also wanted by the court.

The government says its justice system is capable of dealing with any crimes related to the conflict.

Sudan's justice minister reiterated the government's opposition to cooperating with the ICC, but said Kushayb has been the target of a Sudanese investigation that is in its final stages. It is unclear how long Kushayb has been in detention.

Sudan is trying to rally international support for dropping or delaying a request for an arrest warrant for Sudan's president by the ICC's chief prosecutor. The African Union and Arab League have backed Sudan in urging the U.N. Security Council to defer that request, a power granted by Article 16 of the court's charter.

Such a move would require the approval of the Security Council's permanent members, including Britain, France, and the United States, all of whom have indicated they would consider allowing a deferral if Sudan takes significant actions to address the conflict in Darfur.

The director of the Horn of Africa project at the International Crisis Group, Fouad Hikmat, says the possibility of deferral depends on the outcome of the investigation, and whether further steps are taken to go after others suspected of crimes in Darfur, including Haroun, the humanitarian affairs minister.

"It needs to be seen if it is going to happen in a way that it is going to satisfy the international criminal court or those who are debating now whether to invoke Article 16 or not, but he is not the only person on the list, because above him there is a person who is holding a ministerial position and above that the president himself," said Hikmat.

There have been reports that France has offered a deal to Sudan to back a deferral in exchange for offering up Haroun to the ICC.

For Hikmat, establishing accountability for crimes committed in Darfur, whether through the ICC or another approach, is necessary for any peace agreement in Darfur, as well as for the survival of the 2005 north-south peace agreement, which calls for national elections next year, followed by a referendum on southern secession in 2011.

"If we do not have a reconciliation mechanism where impunity is addressed and issues of justice are addressed in one form or another there will not be a sustainable settlement to the conflict in Darfur, and the contribution of Darfur to the general elections. Because general elections cannot happen if Darfur is not part of it," added Hikmat.

The African Union and United Nations are attempting to revive stalled peace negotiations between the government and rebel factions.