UNITED NATIONS // Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, worried about the effect of an independent prosecutor's call for the arrest of Sudan's president for alleged genocide in Darfur, urged Khartoum yesterday to guarantee the safety of UN peacekeepers. Mr Ban expects Khartoum to "continue to co-operate fully with the United Nations in Sudan, while fulfilling its obligation to ensure the safety and security of all United Nations personnel and property", the secretary general's press office said in a statement.
The statement was issued here shortly after Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the top prosecutor at the UN-backed International Criminal Court (ICC), pressed for the arrest of Omar al Beshir, the Sudanese president, for alleged genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in strife-torn Darfur. Mr Ocampo's appeal marked the first time a request has been made to the ICC's judges for an arrest warrant against a sitting head of state.
The Argentine prosecutor said in a statement issued in The Hague that Mr Beshir had "masterminded and implemented" a plan to destroy a large portion of three ethnic groups in the western Sudanese region. The UN said Mr Ban "emphasises that the court is an independent institution and that the United Nations must respect the independence of the judicial process". "The United Nations peacekeeping operations in Sudan will continue to conduct their important work in an impartial manner, cooperating in good faith with all partners so as to further the goal of peace and stability in the country," it added.
Mr Ban, who is on a visit to France, said in an interview with the Le Figaro newspaper published yesterday that he was "very worried" by the possible fallout of a Beshir indictment. "It would have very serious consequences for peacekeeping operations including the political process," he told the French daily. "I'm very worried, but nobody can evade justice." In Khartoum, a foreign ministry spokesman, Ali al Sadiq, said Mr Ocampo's move "has completely disregarded the efforts undertaken by the government, the regional powers and the international community" on Darfur.
But the foreign ministry said Khartoum would continue efforts to find a political solution to the five-year conflict in Darfur and would not end its support for the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur. "Definitely we would like to see the hybrid operation [United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur] continue and we would like to see political talks," Mr Sadiq said. Sudan does not recognise the ICC and has refused to hand over two other Sudanese - including a cabinet minister - who face outstanding arrest warrants for alleged crimes in Darfur and said yesterday's move damaged peace efforts. The AU, the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference have also voiced concern that Mr Ocampo's action could undermine peace efforts in Sudan.
The United States said yesterday it is bolstering its security in Sudan because of concerns of a violent backlash. It stopped short of backing the efforts at the ICC, a tribunal Washington opposes out of concern it could carry out politically motivated prosecutions against US troops overseas or US leaders. The White House and the state department said they were reviewing Mr Ocampo's move, but Sean McCormack, a spokesman for the department, said: "We certainly stand firmly on the side of accountability, and we have been a leading voice in that regard." On Friday, Jean-Marie Guehenno, the outgoing head of UN peacekeeping operations, underscored the vulnerability of the mission's peacekeepers after the under-equipped joint force had seven of its men killed and 22 others wounded in an ambush in north Darfur last Tuesday.
UNAMID "will be extremely vulnerable in the next few weeks", Mr Guehenno warned as he urged the UN Security Council to provide more equipment to the force, which has only one-third of its mandated strength of about 26,000. UNAMID has suffered a string of attacks since it assumed control from an African Union force, but Tuesday's ambush was the deadliest assault to hit the six-month-old mission. Mr Guehenno was quoted as saying that the latest attack was designed "to inflict casualties" and was carried out with "equipment usually not used by [rebel] militias".
* Agence France-Presse