Hague court issues warrant for Sudan's Bashir
By Reed Stevenson and Aaron Gray-Block
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on Wednesday for war crimes in Darfur, a decision that could spark more regional turmoil.
The warrant is the first issued against a sitting head of state by the Hague-based court, which stopped short of including a count of genocide over a conflict that United Nations officials say has killed as many as 300,000 people since 2003.
The court, set up in 2002, indicted Bashir on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, which include murder, rape and torture. The three-judge panel said it had insufficient grounds for genocide.
"His victims are the very civilians that he as a president was supposed to protect," ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told reporters, adding that Sudan's government is obliged to execute the warrant. "It could be in two months or two years, but he will face justice."
Hundreds of demonstrators protested against the arrest warrant in central Khartoum. Bashir, 65, has dismissed the allegations made by the ICC, the world's first permanent court for prosecuting war crimes, as part of a Western conspiracy.
"It is a flawed decision," said Sudanese presidential spokesman Mahjoub Fadul. "We do not recognize it."
Hours after the warrant was issued, Sudan revoked the licences of at least six foreign aid agencies, giving no reason for the decision, aid officials said. "This will have a major impact on humanitarian work in Darfur," said one aid official.
U.N. and other agencies are running the world's largest humanitarian operation in Darfur, a mainly desert region in western Sudan. U.N. officials say up to 300,000 have been killed there, while Khartoum says 10,000 have died.
A further 2.7 million people are estimated to have been uprooted by the conflict, which began when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government in 2003.
U.N. officials said hundreds of government troops paraded through the regional capital El Fasher in a show of strength.
SUMMIT IN QATAR
Sudan's under-secretary of foreign affairs, Mutrif Siddiq, told Reuters Bashir planned to attend an Arab summit in Qatar later this month despite the warrant.
ICC Registrar Silvana Arbia said the court expects enforcement of the arrest warrant of states party to the Rome Statute that set up the court and United Nations member states.
International justice expert Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch said the ICC's inability to arrest was an "Achilles heel."
The ICC "has no police force of its own to go out and execute its judicial orders and is dependent on the government of Sudan to carry out this arrest warrant," Dicker told reporters at U.N. headquarters. Continued...