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Darfur: Is the war over or is the world losing interest?

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A girl holds her sleeping brother in Zam Zam camp in Darfur, Sudan in June 2008. REUTERS/Louis CharbonneauIt’s more than six years since mostly non-Arab rebels in Sudan’s western Darfur region revolted after accusing Khartoum of neglecting their remote corner of Africa’s biggest country. Khartoum’s U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem, declared in New York this week that the “war in Darfur is over.”

But Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, disagrees. Although levels of violence in Darfur have fallen, he told the Security Council that crimes “are continuing.” He said those crimes include indiscriminate bombings of civilians, creation of inhumane conditions for displaced people in order to “exterminate” them, rapes and sexual violence, and the use of child soldiers.

The ICC has already issued arrest warrants for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, another government official and a former Janjaweed militia leader for war crimes in a government-led counter-insurgency campaign that drove more than 2 million from their homes. The United Nations says as many as 300,000 people have died since the conflict erupted in 2003, but Khartoum rejects that figure.

The ICC has also charged three rebels in connection with an attack on African Union peacekeepers in 2007. One rebel showed up in The Hague to defend himself but Bashir and the others remain at large. Western diplomats say Bashir’s arrest is not a top priority now since it could destroy the stalled Darfur peace process. Khartoum refuses to cooperate with the ICC and its chief prosecutor, whom Abdalhaleem branded a “mercenary of death and destruction.” (Moreno-Ocampo countered by declaring that Sudanese officials who deny that crimes were committed in Darfur could themselves face prosecution.)

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his latest report to the Security Council that U.N./African Union peacekeepers in Darfur were being harassed and threatened by Sudanese government forces and rebels. (As if to illustrate the point, two Rwandan peacekeepers were shot dead in an ambush in North Darfur on Friday.) Ban said that civilians in Darfur remain at risk of violence as the Sudanese military continues to clash with rebel groups. The world body has also warned that the population of Darfur may be left out of next year’s nationwide elections, the first in 24 years, due to mass displacement of the population and volatile security.

But Khartoum and the rebels determined to topple Bashir’s government may not be the only problem. The former head of a U.N. panel charged with investigating violations of a 2005 arms embargo for Darfur accused the United States and other members of the Security Council of “selling out” the Darfur sanctions.

France and Darfur: Dirty deals over genocide or pragmatism for peace?

Sarkozy at U.N. General Assembly 

French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that if Sudan changes its behavior and actively supports growing international calls for peace in Darfur, Paris would back suspending any indictments the International Criminal Court (ICC) issues against Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

Sarkozy made clear there would be strings attached.  In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, the French leader said Sudan would have to “radically” alter its policy towards Darfur, where international experts say at least 200,000 people have died since 2003. It would have to remove a cabinet minister indicted for war crimes in Darfur from the Khartoum government and stop delaying the deployment of international peacekeepers.

Update-Is ICC setting its sights too high in Sudan?

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bashir1.jpgOn Friday I wrote that the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor was readying a genocide charge and arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.  It came to pass today. A defiant Khartoum has said it will not bend to the court and has warned of an eruption of violence; the opposition too has said the warrant could threaten peace. Is this a case of justice versus peace and do the two have to be irreconcilable?

Here’s Friday’s blog:

BashirProsecutors at the International Criminal Court are readying arrest warrants for senior Sudanese officials, possibly even President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, sources at The Hague court have told Reuters. The Washington Post said it understood Bashir would face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

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