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ICC prosecutor seeks arrest of Sudan's Beshir for 'genocide'


THE HAGUE (AFP) - The prosecutor for the International Criminal Court on Monday asked for an arrest warrant against Sudan's President Omar al-Beshir for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.


Beshir had "personally instructed" his forces to annihilate three ethnic groups in the western Sudanese region, prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told journalists in The Hague.


"His motives were largely political. His alibi was a counter-insurgency.' His intent was genocide," he said.


The president had ordered his forces "not to bring back any wounded or prisoners," he added. "He wanted to commit genocide."


Sudan immediately rejected the bid as damaging to Darfur peace hopes, and the African Union warned the indictment of Beshir would create a power vacuum that risked "military coups and widespread anarchy".


Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe, speaking on behalf of AU chair President Jakaya Kikwete, urged the ICC to defer bringing charges "because there is a risk of anarchy in a proportion we have not seen in this continent."


Already Monday, the joint UN-AU peacekeeping mission in Darfur said it would evacuate non-essential staff but maintain its operation in the war-torn region "due to the recent deteriorating security situation."


UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he expected Sudan to guarantee "the safety and security of all United Nations personnel and property," despite the prosecutor's request.


British Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged the former British colony to cooperate with the court, which he said "has our support for its activities."


But Sudan's Vice President Ali Osman Taha said Khartoum was in contact with permanent members of the UN Security Council, which has the power to intervene and defer any prosecution for a year, to try to block any arrest warrant.


In Cairo, the Arab League said foreign ministers would hold an emergency meeting on Sudan on Saturday, while the White House urged all parties "to remain calm."


"What happened in Darfur is a consequence of Beshir's will," Moreno-Ocampo told journalists.

"The crime of genocide is a crime of intention. Beshir had the intention to destroy the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups," engaged in a rebellion in Darfur, he said.


While Beshir claimed he was taking counter-insurgency measures, all his crimes were aimed at civilians and not rebel groups, the prosecutor said.


He accused Beshir of using state machinery, including the army and intelligence services, as well as the Janjaweed militia to carry out his plan.


"They all report to him. They all obey him. His control is absolute," he said.


The prosecutor has requested a warrant on 10 counts, three of them for genocide. The charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity included allegations of murder, torture, attacks on civilians and pillaging.


The three judges of the court will now examine the application to ascertain whether there are sufficient grounds for issuing a warrant, a process the prosecutor said he expected to take two to three months.


If charges were brought, it would be the first time the ICC had indicted a sitting head of state since its creation in 2002.


The Sudanese government, which is under a United Nations-imposed obligation to execute any resulting warrants, has already refused to surrender two suspects named last year for war crimes in Darfur.


If Khartoum refused to co-operate, said the prosecutor, "the UN Security Council will have to analyse how to ensure compliance."


Moreno-Ocampo's initiative was welcomed by several international human rights groups.


"Charging President al-Beshir for the hideous crimes in Darfur shows that no one is above the law," said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program.


Beshir, 64, came to power in Africa's biggest country when he toppled a democratically elected government in a bloodless coup on June 30, 1989.


His regime introduced Sudan to a more radical brand of Islam including elements of Sharia law. It alienated Christians and animists in the south and many in the northern Arab elite who had grown up under British rule.


The conflict in Darfur began in 2003 when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated regime for a greater share of resources and power.


The United Nations says up to 300,000 people have died from the combined effects of war, famine and disease and more than 2.2 million fled their homes. Sudan puts the death toll at 10,000.

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