THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ The International Criminal Court's prosecutor on Tuesday named a Sudanese government minister close to the president and a militia leader as suspects in war crimes and crimes against humanity in the country's Darfur region.
The prosecution document _ the first details released from the court's 21-month investigation _ claimed to establish a clear link between the Sudanese authorities and the janjaweed militias blamed for much of Darfur's bloodshed. Sudan immediately rejected the allegations and said it would not hand the men over for trial.
Ahmed Muhammed Harun, who was once head of the government's ``Darfur Security Desk'' and is known to be a member of President Omar al-Bashir's inner circle, and a janjaweed militia leader, Ali Mohammed Ali Abd-al-Rahman, were suspected of a total of 51 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said.
Harun and the militia leader, also known as Ali Kushayb, were part of conspiracy to ``persecute civilians they associated with rebels.'' Their methods were ``indiscriminate attacks against the civilian population, murder, rape, inhumane acts, cruel treatment, unlawful imprisonment, pillaging, forcible transfer and destruction of property,'' said the prosecution document, seeking a judicial order for the men to be handed over to the Hague-based court.
Harun, who now holds the post of minister of state for humanitarian affairs, recruited janjaweed knowing they would commit crimes against civilians, Moreno-Ocampo said in a 94-page document filed with the court's judges.
The prosecutor called Kushayb a ``colonel of colonels'' in charge of thousands of janjaweed fighters.
``We are not concerned with, nor do we accept, what the International Criminal Court prosecutor has opted for,'' Sudanese Justice Minister Mohammed Ali al-Mardi told The Associated Press.
More than 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur and 2.5 million displaced in a campaign the White House has called genocide. Fighting erupted in February 2003 when ethnic African tribesmen took up arms, complaining of decades of neglect and discrimination by the Khartoum government.
``A widely reported characteristic of the armed conflict in Darfur is the great majority of civilian deaths'' in the villages attacked by the janjaweed, sometimes together with Sudanese armed forces, prosecutors said.
While the prosecution document is not an indictment, it does say that there are ``reasonable grounds to believe'' that Harun and Kushayb ``bear criminal responsibility'' for the offenses including murder, rape, torture and persecution.
New York-based Human Rights Watch welcomed the evidence, but said more suspects should be identified.
``We hope to see more and we certainly encourage the prosecutor to continue investigations and go higher up the chain of command,'' said Geraldine Mattioli of Human Rights Watch.
After reviewing the prosecutor's evidence, judges can issue arrest warrants or summonses to the suspects to appear in The Hague. If they are charged, tried and convicted, they face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment at the court, which does not have the death penalty.
However, the court has no police force and relies on other countries to carry out arrests. Sudan, however, has not signed the Rome Statute creating the court and does not recognize its jurisdiction.
Moreno-Ocampo's investigators have carried out 70 missions in 17 different countries, taking statements from more than 100 victims and witnesses and collecting documents. They have been unable to carry out investigations in Darfur because of the ongoing violence.
Prosecutors said the offenses occurred in four villages. The ``janjaweed did not target any rebel presence within these particular towns and villages. Rather, they attacked these towns and villages based on the rationale that the tens of thousands of civilian residents in and near these towns and villages were supporters of the rebel militia.''
The strategy ``became the justification for the mass murder, summary execution, and mass rape of civilians who were known not to be participants in any armed conflict,'' prosecutors said. ``Application of the strategy also called for, and achieved the forced displacement of entire villages and communities.''
Sudan has rejected the ICC's jurisdiction in Darfur, saying it was conducting its own investigations.
Moreno-Ocampo said Sudanese investigators told him Kushayb had been arrested last November. Sudanese authorities described him as a ``police assistant,'' and said he was in the custody of his own superiors for investigation into five attacks in which hundreds of people were killed. The incidents were not the same as those being probed by the ICC, he said.
No charges had been brought against him, the prosecutor said.