War crimes suspects use blackmail, says new ICC chief

media captionFatou Bensouda said some suspects had threatened to kill people unless arrest warrants against them were dropped

The incoming chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) says some countries are being blackmailed by suspected war criminals.

Suspects threaten to continue killing people unless arrest warrants are dropped, Fatou Bensouda told the BBC.

She said world leaders should resist pressure from people such as Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda.

The ICC accuses him of recruiting child soldiers for the same rebel group as his co-accused, Thomas Lubanga.

In March Lubanga was the first person convicted by the court of war crimes - but Gen Ntaganda, also known at the "Terminator" remains at large in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The general, who has fought for various militias over the years and was integrated into the Congolese army in 2009, denies masterminding an army mutiny by former members of the CNDP rebel group - which has left tens of thousands of people homeless.

'Good co-operation'

"Those who are wanted, those who have warrants out for them, for their arrest, should be arrested and surrendered to the ICC," Ms Bensouda said in an interview with the BBC's Karen Allen in Johannesburg.

"This level of blackmail - which I call it - in which perpetrators are saying that if you do not drop warrants against me or if you issue warrants against me, I'll continue to kill people - I think this is what the international community, especially those who are directly responsible for the arrest of Bosco, should take into account," she said.

The African Union is often seen to be at loggerheads with the ICC after it told its members to ignore the warrant issued by the ICC for Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir over the Darfur conflict.

"I want to make one thing clear. What is mostly out there in the media is that the African Union is not co-operating with the ICC, and of course there are certain examples of why this is said," Ms Bensouda said.

"But I want to say that we have had tremendously good co-operation with individual African states," she said.

She praised Botswana, which has consistently said it would arrest President Bashir if he were to go to that country, and the "very encouraging step" taken by Malawi's new leader, Joyce Banda.

Despite not arresting Gen Ntaganda, Ms Bensouda pointed out that DR Congo has handed over three other nationals - and Ivory Coast, which is not fully signed up to the Rome Statute that created the ICC, also handed over former President Laurent Gbagbo.

Gambian lawyer Ms Bensouda takes over from Louis Moreno-Ocampo as chief prosecutor of the ICC next month.

Mr Ocampo has often been criticised for exercising selective justice because all the active cases involve alleged war crimes in Africa.

Our correspondent says many wonder whether, as an African, Ms Bensouda's approach will be different.

"I'm an African, I'm proud of that. But I am a prosecutor for 121 states, not just African states - and I will continue as I have been doing in applying the law," Ms Bensouda said.

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