"We condemn this criminal move by the prosector-general. It is very disastrous to the peace process, and to the efforts between the United Nations and Sudan to deal peacefully with the problem in Darfur.

"It is a very destabilising move," he said.

In the event of an arrest warrant being issued, it will be first-ever bid before The Hague-based tribunal to charge a sitting head of state with war crimes.

Warrant request

Earlier, Sean McCormack, the US state department spokesman, told reporters: "I understand that the prosecutor intends to go before a panel of judges to present information and request for a warrant."

His remarks came after the office of Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor, said on Thursday that a new case covering "crimes committed in the whole of Darfur over the last five years" would be opened on Monday.

Sudan does not recognise the jursidiction of the ICC and has previously refused to hand over a minister and a militia leader accused of war crimes. 

Abdelmahmoud said that Sudan did not recognise the jursidiction of the ICC and called the charges "politically motivated".

"It is one of the designs by the enemies of the country to settle political scores, they tried it through sanctions, they tried it through inciting our neighbours ... so it is a process of conspiracies against our country,' he said.

Previously Khartoum has refused to hand over a government minister and a militia leader sought by the court.

Backlash feared

Publicly, the United Nations has remained quiet over the issue that could pit the demands of the UN-backed ICC against UN interests in deploying a peace force in Darfur.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general declined on Thursday to say who would be named in a new case investigating alleged crimes in Darfur, or what the consequences might be for the struggling UN-African Union force.

There are fears of a potential backlash to any move to arrest al-Bashir [AP] 
"Peace without justice cannot be sustainable," he said.

"I will have to assess
all the situations when there will be an announcement by the ICC."

Seven soldiers of the force were killed in an attack by unidentified fighters on Tuesday.

The United States has warned Khartoum against any retaliation against the joint UN-AU force, saying it had international obligations even if refused to recognise the authority of the ICC.

Aid officials have also expressed fears of a potential backlash following any announcement by the ICC.

The United Nations says up to 300,000 people have died and more than 2.2 million have been displaced since the Darfur conflict broke out in February 2003. The Sudanese government disputes the figures saying 10,000 have been killed.
  
The conflict began when African ethnic minority fighters took up arms against the Arab-dominated regime, which is alleged to have employed Arab militias to fight back.

Representatives of rebel groups in the region welcomed the news.

"Hallelujah. I think that the people in Darfur and the movements will be very happy," Sharif Harir of Sudan Liberation Movement Unity (SLM) said.

While Ahmed Hussein of the Justice and Equality Movement said it was "good news for the people of Darfur".
  
"It would be a very historical kind of victory for humanity."