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Sudan Vows to Fight Charges Of Genocide Against Its Leader

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court filed genocide charges Monday against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, accusing him of masterminding attempts to wipe out African tribes in Darfur. Video by AP

When the International Criminal Court charged two other top Sudanese officials with war crimes last year, the government officially paid no attention. It later promoted one of the officials to head its Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs.

John Prendergast, a leading activist on Darfur, called the government's pledge Monday to react legally "a smoke screen." He and others have noted that last week's attack on a peacekeeping convoy by an estimated 200 fighters was likely carried out by pro-government militias. The ambush was probably "their first answer" to Ocampo, said Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, which campaigns to end crimes against humanity. "Watch what they do, not what they say."

At the same time, he and others said, the charges against Bashir could help pressure the Sudanese government into a meaningful settlement to the Darfur conflict. The United States and other members of the Security Council could support a vote to suspend the charges in return for cooperation on Darfur, for instance.

It will take about three months for the court's judges to decide whether to accept Ocampo's charges and issue an arrest warrant for Bashir. The judges have never turned down such a request.

"If the judges confirm it, the international community has to have a strategy," Ocampo said, adding that if the situation in Darfur deteriorates, the court will not be to blame. "The criminals are the problem, not the prosecutor. Bashir is the problem now, not the prosecutor. We are finally at the stage at which Bashir has to explain, not us."

Boustany reported from Washington. Staff writer Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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