By Evelyn Leopold
UNITED NATIONS, June 9 (Reuters) - The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Sudan had no choice in cooperating with his investigation into war crimes in Darfur but acknowledged Khartoum’s refusal made his job difficult.
- Luis Moreno Ocampo
"The Security Council decision forces them to cooperate," Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor of the world’s first permanent criminal court, said in an interview with two reporters on Wednesday.
In the meantime, he said: "I will be able to collect evidence ’on’ Darfur... (as for) ’in’ Darfur, we will see."
Moreno-Ocampo, an Argentine, said he was busier than anticipated in the two years since he took office — with major investigations in Congo, Uganda and now Sudan.
In addition ICC teams are monitoring killings in Colombia and have been asked to intervene by the government — and rebels — in the Ivory Coast.
"Things are moving so fast in last two years. It’s incredible," Moreno-Ocampo said.
The ICC, based in The Hague, Netherlands, announced on Monday it had begun investigating alleged perpetrators of war crimes in Darfur, the first case referred to the fledgling tribunal by the U.N. Security Council. The United States opposes the court but abstained in the vote, which allowed the ICC to go ahead.
Because the Security Council’s decision was mandatory, Moreno-Ocampo said Sudan had no choice but to cooperate, despite its firm refusal to do so.
Perhaps when a new government took over following a January peace agreement with southern rebels in a separate conflict, the attitude would change, the prosecutor said.
An estimated 180,000 people have died in the Darfur, in Sudan’s west, 2 million have fled their homes to escape slaughter, pillaging and rape in what Washington has termed "acts of genocide."
A U.N. inquiry commission drew up a list of 51 suspects given to the ICC. But Moreno-Ocampo said he was starting all over. "These 51 names, they’re just opinions. We need to collect evidence, to define how things happened in Darfur, who are the most responsible in the situation."
Moreno-Ocampo’s team has spent the last year investigating terrible crimes in northern Uganda by the Lord’s Resistance Army, a group led for 19 years by a mystic, Joseph Kony. He has been accused of terrorizing, maiming, enslaving and raping children kidnapped for his Sudan-based army.
Moreno-Ocampo said he expected to submit documents by the end of 2005 to a pretrial ICC chamber, authorized to issue indictments, which would be the first by the ICC.
"If the court issues a warrant, maybe it is a good time for Sudan to show cooperation ... and hand over Kony," now or when a new government takes over, Moreno-Ocampo said.
Khartoum helped Kony in response to Uganda’s support for the Sudan’s southern rebels, led by John Garang, who is to become vice president in a new government, according to a peace deal signed in January that ended two decades of war.
But if Kony surrenders or some peace agreement is reached Moreno-Ocampo said "we have the duty to consider the possibility to stop the investigation," but not drop it.
"The ICC cannot give immunity but can give time," he said,
Still, U.N. diplomats have expressed concern that indictments in Sudan could interfere with peace negotiations on Darfur as well as the separate agreement between Garang’s southern rebels and Khartoum.
Unlike other tribunals, the ICC has no time limit for its work. Its indictments, remain in force until the suspect is tried, dies or runs out of hiding places.
Under the court’s statutes, a prosecution can be stopped if it is not in the interest of justice. But Moreno-Ocampo said precisely what this means was not clear and discussions with were ongoing to define the concept.