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Sudan bars investigators from Darfur region

Sudan will not allow International Criminal Court investigators to enter its Darfur region to probe suspected war crimes committed during the conflict there, the justice minister said on Tuesday.
/ Source: Reuters

Sudan will not allow International Criminal Court (ICC) investigators to enter its Darfur region to probe suspected war crimes committed during the conflict there, the justice minister said on Tuesday.

Mohammed Ali al-Mardi spoke to Reuters as ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo told the U.N. Security Council that killings, mass rapes and other atrocities had been identified and some criminal incidents would be fully investigated.

But Mardi said the ICC investigation, requested by the Security Council, was not necessary because the Sudanese judicial system was capable of trying any crimes in Darfur.

“The ICC officials have no jurisdiction inside the Sudan or with regards to Sudanese citizens,” Mardi told Reuters. “They cannot investigate anything on Darfur — they have no jurisdiction. This is quite clear and they know it.”

Sudan has signed but not ratified the treaty forming the ICC, which is the first permanent global war crimes court.

Suspected genocide
Moreno Ocampo’s team has not been able to interview witnesses in Sudan, instead it has “screened” 100 potential witnesses outside the country.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Darfur and more than two million forced to flee their homes during a revolt launched by mostly non-Arab rebels in early 2003, who say they are marginalized by central government.

The United Nations says Khartoum armed Arab militias and bombed civilian villages to fight the insurgency.

Those fighters are accused by rights groups and villagers of a widespread campaign of rape, looting and killing, that the Untied States calls genocide. Khartoum denies the charge.

Now the International Criminal Court is investigating suspected war crimes in the remote region, the size of France.

Mardi said the government had signed a memorandum of understanding with the ICC to cooperate on the arrest of the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), who are suspected of hiding in Sudan’s lawless south.

Government says they 'investigate complaints'
“We are already cooperating with them ... we are discussing with them what we have been doing in Darfur and our readiness to cooperate with them in arresting the leaders of the LRA.”

But cooperation on Darfur would be based on talks only, he said, without elaborating.

Mardi said there was no evidence of any systematic killings or rape in Darfur and said a court established to try crimes in Darfur was capable of prosecuting any individuals responsible.

He said no senior government or military officials were under investigation.

Rights group Human Rights Watch said in a report on Sunday that senior officials and militia leaders, including the Sudanese president, were responsible for systematic abuses in Darfur and should be investigated by the ICC.

Mardi said an investigation had been completed into an attack on Hamada village in January in which rights groups said more than 60 civilians died and government Antonov aircraft bombed the area.

But he said no officials had been investigated and the issue of why government planes were used to bombard the village would not be addressed when the case comes to court.

“We don’t ask why they were used — we investigate complaints,” he said. He added the only complaints brought before the court were by individuals complaining about tribal strife.