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ICC on Darfur: Arrest Warrant Issued for Sudan President

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir over alleged war crimes committed in Darfur. Many in Europe welcome the decision, but Russia is skeptical.

For the first time, the International Criminal Court has indicted a ruling head of state. The court, located in The Hague in Holland, issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes on Wednesday.

Bashir stands accused of organizing a widespread campaign of violence aimed at tribes in southern Sudan, a region known as Darfur. UN officials say up to 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have fled their homes since the conflict began in 2003.

The court, which has tried war criminals from Serbia, Liberia and Rwanda, has been gathering evidence on the Sudanese situation for years. "We have strong evidence against Mr. Bashir," prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo told reporters on Tuesday. "More than 30 witnesses will (testify) how he managed to control everything and we have strong evidence of his intention."

The violence in Darfur has been far-reaching and extreme. Arrest warrants have been issued on 10 charges, including murder, torture, extermination and rape. Prosecutors say Sudanese troops, and the Arab militias they support, murdered civilians in their villages, and then continued to attack them in refugee camps. The militia has also used rape as a weapon against Darfuri women.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier welcomed the news on Wednesday. "The German government supports the International Criminal Court as an independent organ of international justice," he said in a statement. "It guarantees that serious crimes do not go unpunished and that victimes do not remain unatoned for." France also expressed its support for the decision.

But not everybody welcomed the decision. Russia's special envoy to Sudan, Mikhail Margelov, said that the ICC warrant "will create a dangerous precedent in the system of international relations and could negatively affect the situation both inside Sudan and the overall situation in the region."

According to media reports, a number of African nations are considering pulling out of the court -- which has 108 member states world wide -- in response to the warrant.

In the short term, the warrant for Bashir's arrest is unlikely to improve the lot of the millions of Darfuris in refugees camps. International aid organization Doctors Without Borders withdrew its personnel from the country on Wednesday after Bashir's government announced their safety could not be guaranteed.

In fact, no one is likely to arrest Bashir unless he leaves Sudan. The country doesn't recognize the ICC, and UN observers in the country have no such authority. His own army is unlikely to take their commander in chief into custody.

agc -- with wire reports

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