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UN Chief Calls on Sudan to Protect Civilians, Aid Workers, UN Personnel

The U.N. secretary-general is calling on Sudan's government to honor its obligation to protect civilians, aid workers and U.N. personnel and property following the International Criminal Court's decision to issue an arrest warrant for President Omar Al-Bashir on war crimes charges. But as Ban Ki-moon made his appeal, several international aid groups in Sudan said the government revoked their licenses Wednesday and called for them to leave North Darfur immediately.

In a statement, the U.N. chief did not explicitly call for President Bashir to surrender and cooperate with the ICC. Instead he said he "trusts the government of Sudan will address the issues of peace and justice in a manner consistent with" the 2005 Security Council resolution that referred the Darfur issue to the court.

But President Bashir and his government remain obstinate and say they do not recognize the court's authority and will not cooperate with it.

"I would like to reiterate our strong condemnation of today's verdict, and as I said, we are not going to be bound by it, and we are not in no way going to cooperate with it, or to be bothered by this decision," said Sudan's U.N. Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad.

That rejection was made all the more clear when reports reached U.N. headquarters that between six and 10 aid groups - including Oxfam, Solidarités and Mercy Corps - all Western charities - had their registrations revoked by the Sudanese government Wednesday and were told to leave north Sudan "with immediate effect."

Ambassador Mohamad said he did not have much information on the affected groups, but that his government would "deal very firmly" with any organization that is violating the hospitality and abusing the laws of Sudan.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has some 25,000 peacekeepers and other personnel on the ground in southern Sudan and Darfur. Privately, officials have expressed deep concern over their safety; publicly they say the government of Sudan has given them assurances that they will be safe.

The International Criminal Court at The Hague issued an arrest warrant Wednesday for President Bashir on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for atrocities committed in the Darfur region of his country since 2002. President Bashir was not charged with genocide, but lawyers say the prosecutor could bring that charge again if he builds a stronger case.

Human rights groups welcomed the court's announcement, saying there can be no peace in Darfur without justice. They called on the U.N. Security Council to see that the warrant is enforced.

"We … look to the Security Council that mandated the ICC to investigate and prosecute these crimes, to see that this arrest warrant, initiated, triggered, by the Council is in fact complied with by the authorities in Khartoum," said Richard Dicker, who is with Human Rights Watch.

Although the U.N. has thousands of peacekeepers on the ground in Sudan, they cannot execute any arrest warrant against President Bashir without authorization from the Security Council. That permission is unlikely, as the council is deeply divided over the ICC issue and not likely to take any immediate action.

It could be years before President Bashir faces trial at The Hague. Legal experts say he cannot be tried in absentia, and as it is unlikely he would surrender to the court, it could be a long time before he is apprehended.

Before the indictment was announced, the African Union, Arab League and some other regional organizations petitioned the Security Council to invoke its authority under Article 16 of the treaty that created the court to defer the charges against President Bashir for up to a year.

David Crane of the Enough Project says political and diplomatic support for President Bashir is now likely to decline and the push for a deferral with it.

"I think that the President of Sudan's political support will begin to soften and dry up as people pull away, because no one wants to be seen or dealing with an indicted war criminal," he said.

The United States, which is not a party to the court but has supported the Darfur investigation, said it supports the court's actions to hold accountable those responsible for heinous crimes in Darfur. France urged Sudan to "fully cooperate" with the court and immediately implement its decision.

Sudan is not a party to the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court, but it is required to cooperate with it under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which mandates member states comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions. The Security Council referred the Darfur case to the court in 2005.