THE HAGUE - The International Criminal Court sought the arrest Wednesday of Sudan's President Omar al-Beshir for war crimes in Darfur, issuing the first ever warrant against a sitting head of state.
"Today, pre-trial chamber one of the International Criminal Court ... issued a warrant for the president of Sudan for war crimes and crimes against humanity," court spokeswoman Laurence Blairon said.
The 65-year-old Beshir will face five counts of crimes against humanity and two of war crimes. However Beshir will not face charges of genocide as requested by the ICC's chief prosecutor, the spokeswoman added.
Speaking at a press conference, Blairon said Beshir bore responsibility for "exterminating, raping and forcibly transfferring a large numbers of civilians" from the western Sudanese region where a six-year conflict has cost several hundred thousand lives.
She said Beshir and other high level Sudanese political and military leaders had orchestrated and coordinated the attacks.
Although there was no immediate response from Khartoum, Beshir said on Tuesday that he would regard any warrant as worthless.
"Any decision by the International Criminal Court has no value for us. It will not be worth the ink it is written on," he said on Tuesday.
Blairon said that if Sudan failed to comply with the warrant it could be referred to the UN Security Council.
The Arab League has said it feared "dangerous consequences" if a warrant is issued while the African Union has also called on the UN Security Council to suspend the court's proceedings.
The announcement came the day after the chief ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who asked the court to issue an arrest warrant for Beshir last year, said he had strong evidence against the leader of Africa's biggest country and had a list of more than 30 witnesses.
The ICC has no powers of enforcing its own warrants, but suspects can be arrested on the territory of states that have signed up to the court's founding Rome Statute.
The United Nations says up to 300,000 people have died since conflict broke out in Sudan's western Darfur region in 2003, when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated regime for a greater share of resources and power.
A ceasefire has been agreed between the government and opposition groups but deadly clashes go on in the region.
Moreno-Ocampo accuses Beshir of personally instructing his forces to annihilate three ethnic groups -- the Fur, the Masalit and the Zaghawa.
The prosecutor says 2.7 million people have been uprooted from their homes, of whom 100,000 died of causes related to their displacement, such as starvation.
In May 2007, the ICC issued arrest warrants for crimes in Darfur against Sudanese government minister Ahmad Harun and Janjaweed militia leader Ali Kushayb, which Khartoum, who rejects ICC jurisdiction, has failed to honour.
Ahead of the announcement, the Sudanese army broadcast a warning on state radio against anyone trying to make political capital out of any move by the court to pursue proceedings against the regime.
Security was beefed up outside embassies, with large protests expected if the ICC issues a warrant on any of the multiple charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
The medical aid organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said it was pulling its expatriate staff out of Darfur after the Sudanese government ordered them to leave.