Sudanese official blamed for role in Darfur atrocities

International court also targets imprisoned militia leader

February 28, 2007|By Maggie Farley and Edmund Sanders | Maggie Farley and Edmund Sanders,LOS ANGELES TIMES

UNITED NATIONS -- A high-ranking Sudanese government official colluded with militias to commit atrocities against civilians in the Darfur region, the International Criminal Court's prosecutor said yesterday.

Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo presented results of a 21-month investigation that he said shows "reasonable evidence" that Ahmad Muhammad Harun, then Sudan's minister of state for the interior, and imprisoned militia leader Ali Kushayb "bear criminal responsibility" for mass executions, rapes and the forcible removal of thousands of people from their homes.

The allegations, which are not an indictment, are a first step that could lead to arrests and prosecutions by the court at The Hague, Netherlands. They were made amid an international campaign to halt the violence that has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced 2.5 million in Sudan in the past four years.

Prosecuting the men will not be easy. Sudan's justice minister rejected the allegations yesterday and said the two would not be handed over for trial.

Harun is Sudan's state minister for humanitarian affairs. Kushayb, whose real name is Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, has been under arrest in Khartoum since November on unspecified criminal charges.

"The court has no jurisdiction to try any Sudanese for any alleged crimes," Justice Minister Mohamed Ali al-Mardi said in Khartoum yesterday. Sudan has said that it is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court and will not respect the court's decisions.

Judges from the court can issue arrest warrants for the two men, but if Sudan decides to prosecute them for the same crimes under its judicial system, the international court will no longer have jurisdiction.

"I have no assurance of cooperation," Ocampo said in a conference call with journalists. "We know it is a difficult challenge."

Human rights groups have pressed the court to blame higher officials, including the president and army chiefs.

Ocampo said additional charges could be leveled later but that his team focused on people whom they could clearly link to crimes against humanity.

The investigation focused on militia attacks on four towns in Darfur between August 2003 and March 2004.

As head of what was called the Darfur security desk, Harun coordinated the recruitment, arming and funding of militias known as janjaweed, the prosecution document said.

Prosecutors quoted Harun as saying during a public meeting that he had been given "all the power and authority to kill or forgive whoever in Darfur for the sake of peace and security," and said he directed the militia to attack villages.

A representative in Harun's office said he was in Khartoum but was unavailable for comment.

Kushayb, a commander of thousands of janjaweed fighters in West Darfur, issued orders "to victimize the civilian populations" through mass rape, killings, torture, looting of residences and marketplaces, and the displacement of residents, said a court statement.

Ocampo said witnesses testified that Kushayb participated in the execution of 32 men in the town of Mukjar and that his fighters tied women to trees and raped them repeatedly.

Sudanese government officials called the allegations politically motivated and were preparing to organize public demonstrations to protes them.

"The whole thing is counter-productive," said a senior official in Khartoum. "They are just trying to put pressure on the government. The rebels committed atrocities. The government committed atrocities. But we are still in the situation of war. All other tribunals like this took place after the war was over. The issue of justice should come after the peace."

Maggie Farley and Edmund Sanders write for the Los Angeles Times

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