- A Dafurian rebel commander Bahr Idriss Abu Garda charged for war crimes has voluntarily appeared before the International Criminal Court in The Hague today.
Mr Abu Garda is charged with crimes stemming from an assault on an African Union base in Haskanita, South Darfur, Sudan in September 2007 that killed 12 peacekeepers and civilian police officers of the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS). He has however denied the charges.
Mr Abu Garda, the head of the United Resistance Front, is the first suspect to appear before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, regarding the Darfur conflict.
The ICC prosecutors allege that about 1,000 rebels commanded by Mr Abu Garda armed with anti-aircraft guns, artillery guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, attacked and killed members of the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) in Haskanita.
The prosecution further alleged that the rebels destroyed communication, installations and vehicles and looted vehicles, refrigerators, computers, cellular phones, military boots and uniforms, fuel, ammunition and money.
According to the court, Mr Abu Garda will be free to leave the Netherlands after his appearance, but has to return later for a confirmation of charges hearing during which the court will decide whether there are substantial grounds to believe that he committed the crimes alleged.
The ICC has also welcomed the voluntary appearance of Mr Abu Garda before the international court saying it might serve to encourage other suspects currently at large to come before the Court to be heard with all guarantees of a fair trial.
Other Sudanese government officials, including President Omar al-Bashir and former Sudanese Minister of State for the Interior and now the Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs have been charged with war crimes by the court, but refuse to acknowledge its jurisdiction.
In November 2008, the ICC Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo requested arrest warrants for three Darfur rebels, including Mr Abu Garda, over the attack at the Haskanita AU camp that killed 12 soldiers and seriously wounded eight others.
Mr Moreno-Ocampo had described the act as "the most serious attack against peacekeepers in Darfur".
In his application, the prosecutor charged the three suspects with war crimes, for murder and causing severe injury to peacekeepers; intentionally directing attacks against personnel, installations, material, units, or vehicles involved in a peacekeeping mission, and pillaging.
The United Nations estimates that 300,000 people have died in a six-year conflict in Sudan's Darfur region and more than two million more have been displaced.
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