The International Criminal Court's prosecutor on Tuesday named a former Sudanese junior minister as a suspect for war crimes in Darfur, saying he helped recruit janjaweed militias responsible for murders, rapes and torture.

The investigation by prosecutors at the world's first global war crimes court claimed to establish a clear link between the Sudanese authorities and the janjaweed.

Ahmed Muhammed Harun, the former junior interior minister responsible for the western Darfur region, and a janjaweed militia leader, Ali Mohammed Ali Abd-al-Rahman, also known as Ali Kushayb, were suspected of a total of 51 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said.

Sudan's justice minister, Mohammed Ali al-Mardi, rejected the allegations, saying the two men would not be handed over for trial.

"We are not concerned with, nor do we accept, what the International Criminal Court prosecutor has opted for," al-Mardi said in Khartoum.

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The prosecutor said investigations were continuing into possible criminal activity on both sides of Darfur's civil conflict, but that the two men were most responsible for crimes.

"We have presented a very solid case," Moreno-Ocampo told a crowded news conference after handing his evidence to a panel of three judges.

Sudan has repeatedly said it will not respect any indictments handed down by the ICC, and it is not a signatory to the convention that created the international court. The investigation was launched in 2005 at the request of the U.N. Security Council.

Harun, who is now the junior minister for humanitarian affairs, and Kushayb were part of conspiracy to "persecute civilians they associated with rebels." Their methods were "indiscriminate attacks against the civilian population, murder, rape, inhumane acts, cruel treatment, unlawful imprisonment, pillaging, forcible transfer and destruction of property," said the prosecution document, seeking a judicial order for the men to be handed over to the Hague-based court.

Harun, who was head of Khartoum's "Darfur Security Desk," recruited janjaweed knowing they would commit crimes against civilians, Moreno-Ocampo said in a 94-page document filed with the court's judges.

Harun, who is in his 40s, is known to be a member of President Omar al-Bashir's inner circle and is regarded as one of the most energetic of the younger leaders in the ruling National Congress Party.

The announcement unveiled details of the investigation for the first time into the region where more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced in a campaign the White House has called genocide. Fighting erupted in February 2003 when ethnic African tribesmen took up arms, complaining of decades of neglect and discrimination by the Khartoum government.

"A widely reported characteristic of the armed conflict in Darfur is the great majority of civilian deaths" in the villages attacked by the janjaweed, sometimes together with Sudanese armed forces, prosecutors said.

New York-based Human Rights Watch welcomed the evidence, but said more suspects should be identified.

"We think it's an important first step. It could be the beginning of the end of impunity in Darfur," said Geraldine Mattioli, of Human Rights Watch. "But we hope to see more and we certainly encourage the prosecutor to continue investigations and go higher up the chain of command."

While the prosecution document is not an indictment, it does say that there are "reasonable grounds to believe" that Harun and Kushayb "bear criminal responsibility" for the offenses including murder, rape, torture and persecution.

If they are charged, tried and convicted they face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment at the court, which does not have the death penalty.

In Khartoum, there was no immediate government reaction.

Prosecutors said the offenses occurred in four villages. The "janjaweed did not target any rebel presence within these particular towns and villages. Rather, they attacked these towns and villages based on the rationale that the tens of thousands of civilian residents in and near these towns and villages were supporters of the rebel militia."

The strategy "became the justification for the mass murder, summary execution, and mass rape of civilians who were known not to be participants in any armed conflict," prosecutors said. "Application of the strategy also called for, and achieved the forced displacement of entire villages and communities."

Sudan has rejected the ICC's jurisdiction in Darfur, saying it was conducting its own investigations.

Moreno-Ocampo said Sudanese investigators had told him Kushayb had been arrested last November. He called Kushayb a "colonel of colonels" in charge of thousands of janjaweed fighters.

Sudanese authorities described him as a "police assistant," and said he was in the custody of his own superiors for investigation into five incidents in which hundreds of people were killed. The incidents were not the same as those being probed by the ICC, he said.

No charges had been brought against him, the prosecutor said, but Sudanese authorities had told him they would complete the next phase of their investigation next month.

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