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03 Jun 2009 09:32
The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) chief prosecutor said on Tuesday that he was looking closely at charges child soldiers have been used by militias in Sudan’s conflict-torn western Darfur region.
Last December, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) said that up to 6 000 child soldiers, some as young as 11, have been recruited by rebels and government forces in Darfur.
“We are monitoring the child soldier crimes,” ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told Reuters in an interview. “That’s a big deal and it’s possible that parties to the [Darfur] conflict use child soldiers.”
Moreno-Ocampo said he had not yet decided whether to press for further indictments in Darfur related to allegations of child soldier recruitment.
He is currently seeking the prosecution of six Sudanese men for crimes in Darfur, including President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
“Before we do any new case I will inform the Security Council in advance of what are my plans,” he said.
Moreno-Ocampo will brief the Security Council on Friday on his activities related to Sudan.
The prosecutor said he was also monitoring the spill-over of the conflict in Sudan’s neighbour, Chad, and the treatment of people at refugee camps in Darfur.
Unicef has said it has evidence that all of Darfur’s main rebel groups used children, including the powerful Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the faction of the Sudan Liberation Army led by Abdel Wahed Mohamed Ahmed al-Nur.
The UN agency estimates that there are a total of 8 000 child soldiers in Sudan, 6 000 in Darfur and the rest in southern Sudan—which ended a two-decade civil war with the north in 2005—and the east of the country, the site of a low-level insurgency against Khartoum.
Genocide decision ‘within weeks’
The conflict in Darfur erupted after rebels took up arms against the government in 2003.
In March of this year, al-Bashir was indicted by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. Al-Bashir has denied all charges.
The ICC judges rejected Moreno-Ocampo’s request that they charge al-Bashir with genocide. The prosecutor appealed and said he expects a decision on his appeal “within weeks”.
He has said that he expects the judges will accept his appeal and add genocide to the list of charges against al-Bashir.
The ICC has issued arrest warrants for two other men in connection with mass killings in Darfur. Moreno-Ocampo has also asked the court to indict three rebel leaders over a 2007 attack that killed 12 African Union peacekeepers.
After al-Bashir’s indictment, Khartoum ordered the expulsion of 13 foreign aid groups that the government accused of collaborating with the ICC. The UN has warned that the expulsions could have a devastating impact on the delivery of aid to millions of people in Darfur dependent on it.
Members of the African Union, Arab League and other nations have expressed concern that al-Bashir’s indictment could undermine the fragile peace process in Darfur and have urged the Security Council to intervene and halt the proceedings.
However, the United States, Britain and France, which are permanent veto-wielding council members, have said they see no grounds for deferring al-Bashir’s case.—Reuters
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