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In Exploring a Solution for Darfur, Sudan Opts for Local Justice By Emily Wax Washington Post Foreign Service

4/8/2005 8:19 pm

NYALA, Sudan -- Tribal leaders from villages near this capital of South Darfur province convened for a government-supported conference last week to talk about how to make peace and find justice after two years of war in the region. They discussed how many huts were burned, how much livestock was stolen and how many lives were lost in several attacks late last year.

Over several days, participants argued intensely. Witnesses were called. Payments of blood money were discussed. And the conference ended with a promise to meet again soon and to continue searching for solutions.

"We didn't work everything out," said Ibrahim Sulieman, leader of a nomadic tribe with Arab origins. "In fact, some of the tribes still hate each other. But the conference was a start."

This traditional style of justice is what the government of Sudan envisions for the entire region of Darfur to deal with allegations of war crimes committed during the conflict, which has left thousands of people dead and forced 2 million people off their farms and into squalid camps.

Many foreign countries and international organizations favor a different kind of justice. The U.N. Security Council approved a French-backed resolution Thursday to refer Sudanese war crimes suspects to the International Criminal Court, arguing that such a court is the only way to send a message to countries around the world that such atrocities will not go unpunished.

Sudan has objected to the court and said it would not allow its citizens to be taken outside the country. In recent interviews, high-level officials said an international court would intensify the fighting and give all parties less of a reason to make peace.

"We have traditional ways of solving problems on the ground," said Ibrahim Ibrahim, an adviser to the vice president in the Foreign Ministry. "In Africa, we believe in reconciliation not punishment. We can kiss and make up. This court is punitive and will only hurt and harass us."

The United Nations also imposed new sanctions on Sudan on Tuesday that include a travel ban and freezing the assets of individuals who commit atrocities or "constitute a threat to stability" to the peace process in Darfur.

The United Nations has struggled for months with how to proceed on Darfur, where a rebellion broke out in February 2003 when two African rebel groups attacked police stations and military outposts to protest what they called regional discrimination by the Arab-led government.

In response to the rebellion, the government armed and supported an Arab militia, known as the Janjaweed, and bombed villages where rebel supporters were believed to be hiding, according to human rights groups and the United Nations. Rights groups say the Janjaweed has killed, raped and tortured villagers and burned down their villages.

The United States has said the crimes constitute genocide. A U.N. committee stopped short of using that label but determined that grave crimes against humanity had been committed. Two months ago, the commission gave Secretary General Kofi Annan a confidential list of 51 Sudanese -- 10 of them top officials -- who it said should stand trial for the crimes.

Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail said the international court resolution and new sanctions could create tensions between his country and the United Nations.

"The Security Council will be held responsible for any negative reaction in Darfur," he said. Such comments have troubled humanitarian workers in Darfur who say they could become targets of attacks.

The government announced Tuesday that it had arrested 14 members of its security service suspected of rapes, killings and burning villages in Darfur, the first such arrests in the conflict. Sudanese analysts and Western diplomats said the arrests were simply a government effort to dissuade the Security Council from voting in favor of the international court.

The analysts and diplomats also said that while traditional styles of justice are effective in some cases, tribal conferences would not adequately address crimes committed in Darfur.

"The problem in Sudan is that the government has lost its role as umpire in Darfur," said Mahjoub Mohamed Saleh, the editor of Al Ayam, an independent newspaper based in Khartoum, the capital.. "The biggest mistake the government made in Darfur was arming and siding with the Arab tribes. Tribal conferences can work and have throughout our history. But that was when the government didn't take sides. Now they are no longer neutral. We need someone to step in for the really big crimes."

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