President of Sudan 'likely to be indicted' for war crimes in Darfur

Steve Bloomfield,Africa Correspondent
Saturday 12 July 2008 00:00 BST

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Aid agencies in Sudan were yesterday tightening security and preparing for a violent backlash if, as expected, the International Criminal Court indicts Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity on Monday.

While the move will delight activists and human rights advocates, who have long called for the President and other senior officials to face justice over the campaign of ethnic cleansing being waged in Darfur, it has caused panic among humanitarian and UN agencies.

"A lot of things could go wrong," said a senior international aid worker in Khartoum, who wished to remain anonymous. "It could kick off big time."

Some analysts believe there could be a surge in violence in Darfur that would threaten international aid operations as well the fragile north/south peace deal, which has been teetering on the brink of collapse.

"It is a pretty sure bet that he will respond aggressively and defiantly," said Alex De Waal, an expert on Sudan based at the Social Science Research Council in New York. "There are all sorts of potential victims. I wouldn't rule out the possibility that he expels the UN."

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the international court's chief prosecutor, has said the "whole state apparatus" of Sudan is implicated in crimes against humanity, and likened Sudan's government to the Nazis. On Monday, he will present his evidence to three judges – from Brazil, Latvia and Ghana – who will consider it for three months before ruling.

A spokesman for the prosecutor would not confirm that President Bashir will be accused, but diplomats and UN officials who have spoken to the prosecutor told The Independent they believe he will be named. John Prendergast, head of the Enough activist group, welcomed the expected action but warned that President Bashir would "use the indictment as cover for a new round of mass murder and mayhem in Darfur".

The UN is stepping up security and has put in place a contingency plan to evacuate family members and non-essential staff from Khartoum. Many aid agencies working in Darfur, which is home to the world's largest humanitarian operation, have recalled staff members in field locations back to their headquarters in El Fasher. The beleaguered United Nations and African Union peacekeeping force (Unamid), which came under attack this week, may also be threatened.

If President Bashir is indicted, it will be the biggest case in the court's four-year history. Two Sudanese officials have already been indicted but Sudan has refused to hand them over.

Dr Rabie Atti, a Sudanese government spokesman, said President Bashir "will never surrender". Any indictment, he warned, would "affect security and stability in the whole country".

If an arrest warrant is issued, it would severely limit President Bashir's foreign travel. Some 106 countries have ratified the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, including Kenya and Uganda. Were President Bashir to travel to any of these countries he would be liable to arrest.

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