Arrest warrant issued for Sudan's president

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LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins, and this is The World. Sudan's president is a wanted man. The International Criminal Court in The Hague issued its first arrest warrant today for a sitting head of state. Omar al Bashir is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan's western region of Darfur. Bashir was not charged with genocide, something the prosecutor had sought. And as The World's Katy Clark reports, issuing an arrest warrant doesn't mean Sudan's leader will actually face the charges.

KATY CLARK: Court spokeswoman Laurence Blairon announced the litany of charges against the Sudanese President today.

LAURENCE BLAIRON: Murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing, and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians and pillaging their property.

CLARK: If convicted, Omar Al-Bashir faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. Darfur refugees who gathered in Rome to demand Bashir's arrest celebrated today's announcement. Esam Elhag is a spokesman for the Sudan Liberation Movement.

ESAM ELHAG: This represents for us the first step towards the justice which is going to take place in Darfur. And all Darfurians have waited this day for a long time.

CLARK: But Bashir isn't in custody yet. Sudan doesn't recognize the International Criminal Court and refuses to cooperate with arrest warrants. Meantime, Bashir himself rejects the accusations against him. Speaking to a large crowd of supporters yesterday, Sudan's President said the ICC could take its warrant and eat it. Bashir's supporters wasted no time today denouncing the warrant, calling it part of a Western conspiracy aimed at destabilizing oil-rich Sudan. Abdalmahmood Abadalhaleem Mohamad is Sudan's Ambassador to the U.N.

ABDALHALEEM MOHAMAD: It is a politically motivated move. It has nothing to do with legality or with justice.

CLARK: One of Bashir's lawyers, Michel Abd Al Massih, dismissed the charges today as �weak.� He noted the striking absence of any genocide charges against the Sudanese President.

ABD AL MASSIH: Initially, the whole application of the prosecutor was that this was an allegation of genocide. The fact that the pre-trial chamber has decided not to find against the President on genocide seems to us that the evidential basis upon which the case was built initially has frankly been utterly diminished.

CLARK: Not necessarily so, says court spokeswoman Laurence Blairon. Blairon says that in this particular case, the pre-trial chamber hadn't been able to find reasonable grounds to establish genocidal intent. But, she says, prosecutors could ask for genocide charges to be added to the warrant if they can produce new evidence. Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo says he'll have to study the chamber ruling before deciding how to proceed. Still, Moreno-Ocampo struck a confident tone today when he said the ICC judges made it clear that there's no immunity for heads of state before the International Criminal Court.

MORENO-OCAMPO: Oman Al Bashir's destiny is to face justice. It will be in two months or in two years, but he will face justice.

CLARK: There's been growing tension in Darfur in the months leading up to today's announcement. The Obama administration gave a guarded welcome to news of the arrest warrant. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs:

ROBERT GIBBS: The White House believes that those that have committed atrocities should be held accountable.

CLARK: Gibbs added that the US urges restraint on the part of all parties in Sudan, and he cautioned that further violence against civilian Sudanese and foreign interests is to be avoided. But that didn't seem to get through to President Bashir. The Sudanese leader expelled at least six foreign aid agencies in the hours after the warrant was issued for his arrest. For The World, this is Katy Clark.