Sudanese reject war crimes allegations

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The Independent Online

The Sudanese government has reacted angrily to suggestions that President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his aides should be tried for war crimes in Darfur.

The New-York based Human Rights Watch accused President Bashir of attacking civilians in Darfur using the Sudanese military and Arab militias, known as the janjaweed. It said Vice-President Ali Osman Taha and other senior officials had joined forces with notorious militia leaders such as Musa Hilal to kill villagers in the war-torn west Sudan region.

Mutrif Siddig, a foreign ministry official, said the researchers had not spent any time on the ground, and had relied on second-hand sources for information. He told reporters: "This report is highly politicised ... This report is ridiculous, it is baseless, it depends on the propaganda and the campaigns of the rebel groups."

The Sudanese government began sending troops to Darfur in early 2003 to quash rebel groups that had begun operating in the region. The army then enlisted the help of the local militia groups, and began to launch co-ordinated attacks on villages. The Sudanese air force would bomb villages as the janjaweed bore down on horseback to kill fleeing civilians and steal their livestock.

More than 200,000 people have been killed, and another two million have fled their homes since the fighting began.

The international community has put pressure on rebel groups and the Sudanese government to end the conflict, but protracted negotiations have yielded few results.

The Sudanese government had agreed to hold an inquiry into crimes in Darfur, but Human Rights Watch argues that not a single mid- or high-level official has been suspended from duty, investigated or prosecuted. The government has also refused to allow any Sudanese citizens to be tried in courts outside the country.

Peter Takirambudde, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said there has been no real attempt to bring perpetrators of the violence to justice. He added: "The Sudanese government's systematic attacks on civilians in Darfur have been accompanied by a policy of impunity for all those responsible for the crimes."

The report was published before a United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss Darfur. The International Criminal Court was asked in March to investigate the killings. The chief prosecutor will present the results of his investigations into the atrocities in Darfur today.