UNITED NATIONS The prosecutor of the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal will seek an arrest warrant Monday charging Sudan's president with crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur, a move U.N. diplomats warned could bring a backlash from Sudan's government.
U.N. officials and diplomats said the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court would seek an indictment charging Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir with orchestrating violence in Darfur that has left hundreds of thousands of people dead.
Sudan's government reacted swiftly and angrily.
"If you indict our head of state, the symbol of our country, the symbol of our dignity, then the sky's the limit for our reactions," Sudan's U.N. Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamed told The Associated Press on Friday.
"We condemn it in the strongest of terms. It will have far-reaching, bad implications for the entire country."
China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya, whose nation is an ally of Sudan, expressed concern that bringing charges against al-Bashir could jeopardize peace talks and put peacekeepers and humanitarian aid workers in Darfur at greater risk.
"It's one of the implications we have to consider," he said.
South Africa's U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo also cautioned that Darfur's embattled people could be left even less secure. "The debate about the balance between justice, peace and development is a very difficult one," he said.
The court, based in The Hague, Netherlands, said the prosecutor will present evidence of war crimes in Darfur to judges Monday and one or more new suspects would be named. But court officials refused to identify any of the potential new suspects.
U.N. officials and diplomats said they expect lesser charges of helping orchestrate genocide and participating in crimes against humanity to be brought against Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
A spokesman for Sudan's president dismissed the investigation and said his government refuses to hand over any suspects.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack warned the Sudanese government not to resort to violence.
"Violence perpetrated by the government against those on the ground performing humanitarian missions, performing duties on behalf of their governments ... certainly does not serve the purposes of the Sudanese government," he said.
The court's prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo of Argentina, has clearly indicated that he is aiming for the top leadership of the Sudanese government, accusing them of sponsoring the janjaweed militias who have unleashed a reign of terror on the country's Darfur region. At least 300,000 people have died since the conflict began in early 2003.
The prosecutor has described the probe as relying on investigators based in neighboring Chad and more than 100 witnesses in 18 countries.
He told the U.N. Security Council in June that "evidence shows that the commission of such crimes on such a scale, over a period of five years, and throughout Darfur, has required the sustained mobilization of the entire Sudanese state apparatus."
An indictment of al-Bashir would mark the first time the International Criminal Court has charged a sitting head of state with war crimes.
But there is precedent: Other U.N.-created international tribunals charged Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Liberian President Charles Taylor with war crimes while they were still in office.
Milosevic died in his cell in March 2006, shortly before the end of his genocide trail. Taylor is currently on trial in The Hague for crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone.
The charges could bring reprisals from Sudan's government, which already has made it difficult for international aid workers and U.N.-African Union peacekeepers to do their work.
"If the procedure is going the way it seems it's going to go, of course we have to be aware of the effects it would have on the ground," France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert said Friday of the court's expected action.
Threats to the peacekeepers currently about 9,000 soldiers and police officers were underscored this week by an ambush that killed seven and wounded 19, one of the deadliest attacks on U.N. forces in recent years.
But some court experts said the benefits outweigh the risks.
"If the prosecutor requests an arrest warrant against the president of Sudan for genocide or crimes against humanity or both, it will a huge step in limiting the impunity for horrific acts committed against innocent people in Darfur," said Richard Dicker, director of the international justice program for Human Rights Watch, a research and advocacy group.
"It would send the message that no one is above the law for these kinds of crimes including a sitting president," he said.
Sudan does not recognize the court's authority and has for months refused to arrest and hand over for trial a government minister and rebel leader charged with atrocities by Moreno-Ocampo last year.
On Friday, a spokesman for the president, Mahjoub Fadul Badry, called the court's prosecutor a "terrorist" whose investigation is based on biased testimony from rebel leaders. Badry said the government would not hand over any suspects, even rebel leaders.
"Moreno-Ocampo's report depends on verbal testimony of rebel leaders and organizations that work under a humanitarian cover but in fact are branches of the intelligence apparatuses of other countries," Badry told The Associated Press.
"In the end, we don't really care what he says."