KHARTOUM, Sudan, June 8, 2005 (AP) — Two Darfur rebel groups that were fighting each other have now ceased fire, the African Union said Wednesday, as the government reaffirmed its refusal to hand over any citizens to the International Criminal Court for prosecution of war crimes in the western region of Sudan.
|Members of the Um Jalool, an Arab nomadic tribe alleged to be part of the Janjaweed militia, ride their camels 20 kilometers outside the village of Muhkjar in West Darfur, October 2004. (HRW).|
The news of a cease-fire came a day after the African Union and United Nations had separately condemned the rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, for fighting over territory in South Darfur, breaking a truce and killing 11 people and wounding 17 others.
AU Commission Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare said Wednesday: "Our call (for a cease-fire) has been heeded, and all the concerned parties have told us that all clashes have been halted." He spoke while visiting the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.
Also Wednesday, the government gave its first Cabinet-level response to this week’s decision by the International Criminal Court to begin investigating war crimes in Darfur, as the U.N. Security Council had mandated it to do.
"Our decision not to hand any Sudanese national for trial outside the country remains valid and has not changed," Justice Minister Ali Karti was quoted as saying by the official Sudan Media Center. He added the government had not yet been officially notified of the ICC investigation.
At least 180,000 people have died, many from disease and famine, in two years of rebellion and counter-insurgency in Darfur. About 2 million people were forced to flee their homes.
The Sudanese government opposes the International Criminal Court, insisting it can prosecute any war criminals in its own courts. The ICC investigation is the first to be carried out against the will of the country where the alleged crimes occurred.
The ICC, which is based in the Netherlands, has a list of 51 suspects — including Sudanese government officials, pro-government militiamen and rebels — that was compiled by a U.N. panel which reported on the Darfur conflict earlier this year.
Sudan’s Foreign Ministry criticized the investigation Wednesday as "coming at the wrong time and in the wrong context."
"Such a declaration sends a wrong signal to the rebels with regard to the continuation of negotiations and at the same time creates a non-positive climate for negotiations," State Minister Najeeb Al-Khair Abdel Wahab was quoted as saying by the state-run Sudan News Agency.
Wahab said the announcement of the investigation risked upsetting a long-delayed round of Darfur peace talks that is due to open Friday in Abuja, Nigeria.
But AU Commission Chairman Konare said the ICC investigation would not affect the peace talks.
"Impunity should not exist whatever the party involved, be it government or rebel side. It is a very clear principle," Konare said. "I think the Abuja meeting should take place between the responsible parties, and this is what is going to take place there."
Darfur’s crisis erupted when rebels took up arms against what they saw as years of state neglect and discrimination against Sudanese of African origin. The government is accused of responding with a counterinsurgency campaign in which the ethnic Arab militia, known as Janjaweed, committed wide-scale abuses against ethnic Africans.