Darfur rebel leaders appear before world court

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Two Sudan rebel leaders who surrendered to a world court over a deadly attack on Darfur peacekeepers on Thursday urged other war crimes suspects to come forward and face justice.

Abdallah Banda Abakaer Nourain and Saleh Mohammed Jerbo Jamus came volontarily to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague Wednesday over the 2007 attack in war-torn Darfur which killed 12 African Union troops.

Describing themselves as revolutionaries, both said they welcomed the chance to clear their names and urged others wanted by the court to follow suit.

"I came here voluntarily in response to the summons of the ICC and I call upon everyone who has been summonsed by this court to come here to exonerate themselves," Banda, born in 1963, told a panel of three judges as he made his first appearance before them in a grey, short-sleeved suit.

"We are here to achieve justice and I call on everyone who is wanted for justice to appear before this court," said his co-accused Jerbo, 33, dressed in a dark suit and tie.

Arrest warrants for Darfur war crimes are outstanding for Sudan's President Omar al-Beshir, as well as former government minister Ahmed Haroun and militia leader Ali Kosheib.

Beshir rejects the jurisdiction of the ICC, the world's only independent, permanent court with authority to try genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and has refused to hand over his two allies.

Banda and Jerbo sat expressionless as the charge sheet was read to them in court.

They face three counts of war crimes allegedly committed in the attack on the Haskanita base in north Darfur on September 29, 2007, that killed 12 peacekeepers with the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) and injured eight.

The attack was allegedly carried out by fighters of the Sudanese Liberation Army-Unity under the command of Jerbo, and splinter forces of the Justice and Equality Movement led by Banda.

"It is alleged that the attackers, numbering approximately 1,000, were armed with anti-aircraft guns, artillery guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers," said a court statement.

The men allegedly destroyed AMIS infrastructure and stole items like refrigerators, computers, cellular phones, vehicles, fuel, ammunition and money.

They are charged with murder, an intentional attack on peacekeepers, and pillaging.

ICC judges in April turned down a prosecution bid to prosecute another rebel chief, Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, over the Haskanita attack, finding insufficient evidence to link him to the killings. Like Banda and Jerbo, Abu Garda had also travelled to The Hague voluntarily for an initial appearance.

Presiding judge Sylvia Steiner set November 22 as the date for a hearing to confirm the charges against the two men -- a requirement before the case can go to trial.

They were free to leave the Netherlands after Thursday's hearing, and were not obliged to be present for the next one.

The case is the fourth before the ICC involving alleged warcrimes in Darfur.

The United Nations says more than 300,000 people have been killed since the Darfur conflict broke out in 2003, when minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government for a greater share of resources and power.

The Sudanese government puts the death toll at 10,000.

© 2010 AFP

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