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ICC to rule on arrest warrant for Sudan president

The International Criminal Court will announce whether it will issue a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir for alleged war crimes in Darfur.

world Updated: Mar 02, 2009 08:32 IST
Mariette le Roux
Mariette le Roux

The International Criminal Court will announce on Wednesday whether it will issue a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir for alleged war crimes in Darfur.

The decision of the judges is set to be announced at 1300 GMT at a press conference in The Hague, the seat of the court, by its registrar Sylvana Arbia and spokeswoman Laurence Blairon, a statement has said.

If the warrant is granted and an arrest carried out, Beshir would become the first head of state to be hauled before the ICC since the court opened its doors in 2002.

The 65-year-old has been at the head of Africa's biggest country since toppling an elected government in a bloodless coup in 1989, introducing Sudan to a more radical brand of Islam and elements of Sharia law.

ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo asked the court last July for an arrest warrant for the Sudanese president on ten charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Sudan's war-torn western region.

The bid has sparked anger across the 53-nation African Union, which said earlier this month it would lobby for a one-year suspension of the case which it argued could threaten the peace process in Sudan.

The UN says up to 300,000 people have died since conflict broke out in Darfur in 2003, when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated regime for a greater share of resources and power.

Moreno-Ocampo has accused Beshir of having "personally instructed" his forces to annihilate three ethnic groups -- the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa, engaged in a rebellion in Darfur.

In his submission to the court last year, the prosecutor said Beshir's forces had used rape, hunger and fear as weapons against Darfur's displaced populations and said some 2.5 million people had been victimised.

The president had ordered his forces "not to bring back any wounded or prisoners," the prosecutor said. "He wanted to commit genocide".

Khartoum has denied the allegations against Beshir, and foreign ministry under-secretary Mutril Sidiq recently reiterated the government's refusal to recognise the ICC's jurisdiction.

Sudan, which is under a United Nations-imposed obligation to execute ICC warrants, has so far refused to surrender two other suspects named in 2007 for war crimes in Darfur -- former interior minister Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb, a leader of the government-backed Janjaweed militia.

The ICC is the world's first independent, permanent war crimes court.

It was charged by the UN Security Council in 2005 with investigating the Darfur situation.

Moreno-Ocampo has also sought arrest warrants for three, thus far unnamed, Darfur rebel leaders over a deadly attack on African peacekeepers in 2007.

The court has no powers to enforce its warrants, but suspects can be arrested in countries that are signatories to ICC's founding Rome Statute.

The leader of Darfur's strongest rebel group said last Tuesday his forces would refocus efforts to topple Beshir if the ICC issues the warrant.

"If he doesn't cooperate with the ICC, the war will intensify," Justice and Equality Movement leader Khalil Ibrahim told London's The Times.

And Thursday, Beshir said he wanted to hold "free elections in the near future" to bring stability to Sudan.

Beshir won a presidential election in 2000 with nearly 90 percent of all votes cast, in a ballot slammed as a sham by the opposition.