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ICC Prosecutor Warns of Possible Sudanese Reprisals if Bashir Arrest Warrant Issued


The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday that the court might soon decide whether to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of genocide in the war-torn Darfur region. Luis Moreno-Ocampo warned that the Security Council should prepare for possible reprisals against peacekeepers and civilians if a warrant is issued. From United Nations headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Moreno-Ocampo says more than 5,000 displaced persons continue to die each month in Darfur. He said continued attacks against ethnic groups, rapes in and around camps, and the obstruction of humanitarian efforts are only possible with the compliance of the Sudanese government, headed by President Bashir.

"Such acts have required the sustained mobilization of the Sudanese state apparatus, including the military, security and intelligence services, the integration of the militia/Janjaweed into the reserve forces, the coordination of the diplomatic and public information bureaucracies and the control of the judiciary," said Moreno-Ocampo said.

The prosecutor asked the court in July to issue an arrest warrant for Mr. Bashir on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. A decision is expected by early next year.

Moreno-Ocampo said the evidence shows that in March 2003, President Bashir ordered brutal attacks on villages and camps inhabited by the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa tribes.

"At least 35,000 persons have been killed, around 300,000 suffered a 'slow death,' thousands of women and girls are the victims of rape," he said. "2.5 million people in the camps today are subjected to conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction."

The prosecutor said that in response to his request for an arrest warrant, President Bashir and some of his officials have made direct threats against peacekeepers and civilians.

"Such threats should be seen for what they are - a confirmation of criminal intentions," Moreno-Ocampo said.

Moreno-Ocampo also charges that the president is protecting two other individuals for whom the court has already issued arrest warrants. One of them, Ahmad Harun, is a government minister.

"The impunity afforded to Ahmad Harun is a direct message to all perpetrators of crimes in Darfur," he said. "That message is the president will protect those who are following his orders."

Moreno-Ocampo said President Bashir could have disarmed the militias, stopped attacks on civilians and surrendered those with arrest warrants against them to the court, but that he has instead chosen to continue to implement his plans of genocide.

He said the council must be ready to take united and consistent action to ensure the implementation of an arrest warrant if the court issues one.

The U.N. Security Council originally referred the Darfur issue to the International Criminal Court, and has spoken in a united voice in demanding that Sudan end impunity. But there are some diffrences developing.

Council members China, Russia and Libya are close to Khartoum. And the African Union and the Arab League have asked that the Council consider deferring the investigation of President Bashir, saying it is not helpful to the peace process.

Costa Rica's U.N. Ambassador, Jorge Urbina, acknowledged differences exist among Security Council members on whether to invoke the Council's power to suspend the investigation for one year, and made clear that his country does not support such a move.

"We regret very much the pressure that has been put on the Council to defer the case from the court," he said. "We believe that this pressure should be put on the government of Sudan to comply with the decision of the court."

Human rights groups are also calling on the Security Council to send a clear and united message to Khartoum that it must comply with the court's decision and that no retaliatory violence will be tolerated.

Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is also seeking arrest warrants against three rebel commanders for a 2007 attack on African Union peacekeepers in which 12 were killed.