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Prosecutor Seeks Arrest Of Sudan's President

The prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague has asked the court to issue an arrest warrant for the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir. It is the first time the court's prosecutor has filed charges against a sitting head of state.

Bashir is accused of orchestrating a five-year reign of terror in Sudan's Darfur region, where hundreds of thousands have been killed and even more have been driven from their homes. But the prosecutor's move is the first step in a long process that may not result in an arrest.

BBC correspondent Geraldine Coughlan in The Hague talks with NPR's Deborah Amos about the unprecedented move by the ICC.

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Coughlan says the prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said he has enough evidence to show that Bashir bears criminal responsibility in relation to 10 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity — including murder, extermination, torture and rape — and other war crimes charges, including attacks on civilians and ethnic groups.

He spoke to the international media in The Hague for a long while Monday, detailing his investigations, the victims, their suffering and where they are now, Coughlan says.

Moreno-Ocampo asked a panel of three judges to issue the arrest warrant. The judges now will examine the prosecution's evidence from the investigation. "It took five years, so they have a lot of homework to do," Coughlan says, and then it could take weeks or months to determine whether the evidence provides firm enough legal basis to issue an arrest warrant.

The court has no police force to deliver an arrest warrant, however. If the judges do give the go-ahead, the ICC would have to go to the United Nations to ask for support services to help peacekeepers on the ground in Sudan carry out an arrest. But there are only 9,000 peacekeepers in Sudan — there are supposed to be 26,000 — so "the logistics and the tools are just not there at the moment," Coughlan says.

The European Union and the U.N. have expressed concern that the move complicates an already unstable situation in Sudan, putting U.N. peacekeepers and aid workers at increased risk of attack. And the African Union fears that an international prosecution could jeopardize the peace process there, Coughlan says.

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