- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

NEW YORK — The International Criminal Court yesterday charged a former Sudanese official and the leader of the government-backed Janjaweed militia with committing war crimes in Darfur, the first of many anticipated attempts to punish participants in the bloody ethnic conflict.

The nascent court, which has been collecting evidence on Darfur for 20 months, accused Ahmad Mohammed Harun, formerly the junior interior minister in charge of the western Sudanese region, and Janjaweed commander Ali Kushayb of being involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity between August 2003 and March 2004.

The Bush administration, until recently a foe of the ICC because of claims it lacks safeguards to protect U.S. soldiers and civilians in conflict zones, praised the court action.

“We fully support bringing to justice those responsible for crimes and atrocities that have occurred in Darfur,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington.

Prosecutors at tribunal based in The Hague made the charges public yesterday morning.

“The prosecution has concluded there are reasonable grounds to believe that Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb … bear criminal responsibility in relation to 51 counts of alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes,” said ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

“The evidence shows they acted together, and with others, with the common purpose of carrying out attacks against the civilian populations,” he said.

The two men were largely responsible for carrying out a campaign of 51 specific counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape, murder, torture, forcible transfer, destruction of property, pillaging, inhumane acts, outrage upon personal dignity, attacks against the civilian population, and unlawful imprisonment or severe deprivation of liberty, the court said.

Human rights groups welcomed the action, but warned that a meaningful international military intervention is still necessary to save the remaining survivors and stabilize nearby Chad, temporary home to some 230,000 Sudanese refugees displaced by four years of fighting and attacks that are thought to have killed more than 200,000 people.

The Sudanese government yesterday rejected the ICC’s authority as “illegitimate” and said it would not turn over the suspects for trial.

“The court has no jurisdiction to try any Sudanese for any alleged crimes,” Justice Minister Mohammed Ali al-Mardi told reporters in Khartoum, according to wire service accounts.

“[Our] stance is not limited to those who fight on the government’s side, but applies to all Sudanese, including those who still bear arms and fight the government. They are Sudanese, and we will not let them be tried by any court outside Sudan.”

He dismissed the court’s evidence, but also noted that one of the two suspects, Mr. Kushayb, had been in government custody since November on charges relating to the killings in Darfur.

The Sudanese government, which has grudgingly allowed an ill-equipped African Union peacekeeping force to police specific areas, has rejected a more robust U.N. peacekeeping force.

The charges announced yesterday at The Hague describe a direct link between the Interior Ministry and Mr. Kushayb, who is referred to as “the colonel of colonels” in charge of Darfur.

An estimated 2.5 million people have been driven from their homes since 2003, when ethnic African rebels took up arms against the government, claiming decades of discrimination and neglect.

Outside observers, including officials from the United Nations and African Union, blame pro-government militias for the worst atrocities.

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