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Darfur rebel chief to appear before war crimes court

A Darfur rebel accused over a 2007 attack that killed 12 peacekeepers in the war-torn Sudanese province is set to appear before the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges on Monday.

world Updated: May 18, 2009 16:38 IST

A Darfur rebel accused over a 2007 attack that killed 12 peacekeepers in the war-torn Sudanese province is set to appear before the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges on Monday.

Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, leader of the United Resistance Front, surrendered to the court in The Hague on Sunday.

He will be the first to appear before the ICC regarding the Darfur conflict, which the UN says has claimed 300,000 lives and displaced more than 2.2 million since 2003, when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated regime for a greater share of resources and power.

The Sudanese government says 10,000 people have been killed.

Abu Garda arrived in the Netherlands on Sunday and was set to appear before a judge at 3:00 pm (1300 GMT) on Monday, said the ICC, the world's only permanent tribunal for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

The 41-year-old faces three counts of war crimes, including murder and pillaging, for an attack on the Haskanita base in north Darfur in September 2007 that killed 12 African Union soldiers and seriously wounded eight others.

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has described the act as "the most serious attack against peacekeepers in Darfur."

Alongside two other rebel leaders whose names the prosecutor has not divulged, Abu Garda is accused of commanding about 1,000 men in a convoy of 30 vehicles mounted with heavy weapons to attack the AMIS peacekeepers.

The attackers also destroyed AMIS infrastructure and pillaged the camp.
The court had issued a summons instead of an arrest warrant for Abu Garda as he had said he would appear before it willingly -- the first ever to do so.

The ICC has to date issued three arrest warrants in connection with its four-year-old investigation into the Darfur conflict -- including one for Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir, who has refused to cooperate.

The court will on Monday read the charges against Abu Garda and inform him of his rights.

He would be allowed to leave for Darfur afterwards, to return to The Hague later for a hearing to determine whether there are sufficient grounds for a trial.

Human Rights Watch welcomed Abu Garda's pending court appearance, "which contrasts sharply with the Sudanese government's relentless obstruction of justice to the victims in Darfur."

"While rebel attacks have not been on the same scale as the crimes committed in the Sudanese government's counter-insurgency campaign, they are nonetheless serious crimes that also have major implications for civilians," Richard Dicker, an HRW spokesman, said in a statement.