Home | News    Tuesday 8 February 2005

Sudanese tell UN to hold off on war crimes trials

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By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 8 (Reuters) - The Sudanese government and southern rebels told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday not to make prosecuting war criminals its first priority and said development aid should be provided even before the Darfur conflict ends.

John Garang, head of the main Sudanese rebel group, speaks after the United Nations Security Council met in New York to discuss the situation in the Darfur, February 8, 2005. (Reuters).

Ali Osman Mohammed Taha, Sudan’s vice president, and John Garang, leader of the main southern Sudanese rebel group, were addressing the Council on an agreement they signed last month ending a 21-year old civil war in the south of the sprawling East African state.

Taha, in charge of negotiations on Darfur in the country’s western region, and Garang, who will become a vice president, presented political proposals meant to stop pro-government militia from killing, raping and robbing the Darfur people.

Garang also proposed a new force of some 15,000 to 30,000 troops to keep peace in Darfur - a third from the government, a third from his Sudanese People’s Liberation Army and the rest from the African Union and others.

All sides, including U.N. officials, exhibited frustration in the ongoing conflict with no agreed clear course of action.

The 15-nation Security Council is currently debating sanctions against those responsible for the violence that has killed at least 70,000 people and made 2 million homeless.

The council also is considering trials for perpetrators of atrocities on a sealed list drawn up by a U.N.-appointed commission, which last week found evidence of heinous crimes in Darfur but stopped short of labeling the violence genocide.

Taha rejected any outside tribunal dealing with Sudanese citizens and said his government had its own commission that would implement recommendations of the U.N. inquiry.

JUSTICE FOR ACCUSED

He said bringing the accused to justice "should not distract us from the need to realize peace first and to put an end to all hostilities."

Garang said the militia, once armed by the government and known as Janjaweed, needed to be punished - but only after peace was achieved. Otherwise "that would be putting the cart before the horse, in which case both the cart and the horse would not move and they would go nowhere."

Both Taha and Garang pleaded with the council to push for international development aid as promised when a north-south peace agreement was signed. Some nations, including the United States, have said the violence in Darfur had to end first.

Taha said the impoverished country should be free of any economic sanctions and that foreign debt should be completely written off.

Garang agreed, saying any lack of reconstruction help, in a country that has known only a few years of peace since independence, would be self defeating.

Jan Pronk, the U.N. envoy for Sudan, said the government was incapable of reining in the Janjaweed, the Darfur rebels were making a power grab and the African Union peacekeeping force needed to be supplemented by a "third force.".

Pronk appealed to all parties, including the African Union and members of the Security Council, "to find a creative way to expand the present third force into one which can stop all attacks."

Baba Gana Kingibe, the African Union special representative in Sudan, said the number of troops was not the issue.

"So far, I have not found that the parties have demonstrated sufficient political will or commitment to finding a lasting solution to the crisis," he said, adding that 3,320 troops and police would be on the ground by mid-April.

After years of low-level conflict between Arab nomads and African farmers, armed rebels launched a revolt two years ago, in part over land and grazing rights. The government retaliated and armed Arab nomadic militia.

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