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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 February, 2005, 19:30 GMT
Sudan rejects international court
Darfur refugees
Some two million people have fled their homes
Sudan has rejected a call from the UN human rights commissioner for Darfur war crimes suspects to be tried by the international court in The Hague.

Sudanese Justice Minister Ali Muhammed Osman Yasin said those arrested should be tried locally in Sudan.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan described circumstances in the western region of Darfur as "hell on earth".

At least 100,000 people are thought to have died and two million have fled their homes in the two-year conflict.

The UN Security Council is currently debating how best to punish those responsible for atrocities in Darfur.

Best means

A recent UN report found that Sudanese government forces and pro-government militias had tortured and killed civilians.

"The government admits there are some atrocities committed by some culprits and I believe they should be arrested and they should be introduced to a court of justice," Mr Yasin told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

"But... it is our obligation as a government that we settle this matter locally."

The UN investigators strongly recommend that those accused of the most serious crimes be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

"The commission in my view eloquently and powerfully argues that referral to the ICC is the best means by which to halt ongoing violations and to prevent future ones," Louise Arbour, the UN high commissioner for human rights, told the Security Council.

She also said that while the report concluded Sudan's government had not pursued a policy of genocide, nothing precluded the possibility of individuals being convicted of such acts.

'All equal before the law'

The commission identified 51 suspects whose names are being kept secret, waiting to be handed over to a "competent prosecutor".

Janjaweed militia
Pro-government militias are accused of widespread atrocities

Mr Yasin said the international community had so little faith in Sudan's justice system because it had taken some time to set up, but he insisted it was now ready.

"All people are equal before the law and we will demonstrate and prove it very soon."

The US does not back the ICC, fearing its nationals could be subjected to politically motivated trials, and has instead proposed an ad hoc tribunal in Tanzania, where a Rwandan war crimes court is already in place.

The US has circulated a draft resolution calling for a travel ban and a freeze on the assets of those responsible for the continuing violence in Darfur.

The resolution simply calls for the perpetrators of atrocities to be brought to justice.

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