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US concerned about security in Sudan after ICC move

WASHINGTON, July 15 – The US government has said it is bolstering security for its staff in after moves by an international prosecutor to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir raised concerns of a violent backlash.

Washington on Monday stopped short of giving its backing to the efforts by the top prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), a tribunal officials oppose for fear it might prosecute US troops overseas for political reasons.

The White House and the State Department said they were reviewing prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s call Monday for Beshir’s arrest for alleged genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in ‘s strife-torn region of Darfur.

But State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said: "We certainly stand firmly on the side of accountability, and we have been a leading voice in that regard."

It is the first time the court has targeted a sitting head of state, and also the first time it has accused anyone of genocide.

McCormack recalled that the has accused both rebels and the government of being behind a pattern of genocide in Darfur.

When asked if the prosecutor’s moves could spark a backlash against UN and African Union peacekeeping troops in Darfur, McCormack replied that "it certainly is a possibility."

McCormack added that not only has the embassy taken "appropriate security measures" for staff in Khartoum and the southern city of Juba, but it has also reminded Beshir’s government of its responsibilities under the Vienna Convention.

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President George W. Bush is "gravely concerned" by increasing violence in Darfur and the United States is examining ways to boost peacekeeping efforts there, press secretary Dana Perino said.

"The president said he was troubled that nearly one year after the passage of a Security Council resolution that authorized a peacekeeping force for Darfur, that force is still not fully deployed," she said.

The United Nations and African Union have raised concerns for their troops.

The State Department and the White House said they would review the ICC arrest warrant request.

"We will monitor the situation in The Hague and review what the prosecutor has requested, but we are not a part of the ICC," said US National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

Washington vehemently opposes the ICC, the world’s first permanent tribunal for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and has waged a global campaign to sign immunity pacts with other countries since the court came into being in July 2002.

McCormack said the ICC recently asked the government for information on that is unrelated to Beshir’s case, and said the "pledged that we would look at that request."

Andrew Natsios, the former special envoy to , said that the threat of prosecution would embolden Beshir to stay in power by any means necessary.

"Free and fair elections are now much less likely, if they ever happen," Natsios wrote on the Web site of the Social Science Research Council. "This indictment may well shut off the last remaining hope for a peaceful settlement for the country."

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Meanwhile the independent think tank, International Crisis Group, warned that hard-liners in Beshir’s government could thwart progress in peace talks with the south and Darfur, or try and block effort to deploy more UN-AU troops in Darfur.

"These are significant risks, particularly given that the likelihood of actually executing any warrant issued against Beshir is remote, at least in the short term," the group said in a statement.

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