War crimes court rejects new bid to try Darfur rebel chief

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The International Criminal Court said Monday it had rejected a new prosecution attempt to bring Darfur rebel chief Bahar Idriss Abu Garda to trial for the killing of 12 African Union soldiers.

Prosecutors at the court in The Hague had challenged a decision by the ICC in February not to try the rebel leader over the 2007 attack in Sudan's Darfur region.

But judges rejected the challenge on Friday, an ICC statement said.

"The arguments raised by the prosecution in its application for leave to appeal do not meet the requirements for an appeal," it said.

Prosecutors had sought a trial for the United Resistance Front leader on three counts of war crimes which included murder and pillaging.

They charged that Abu Garda's fighters killed 12 AU peacekeepers before looting their camp in a "deliberate attack" on the Haskanita military base in the north of Darfur on September 29, 2007.

Most of the soldiers, from Botswana, Gambia, Nigeria, Mali and Senegal, were "executed" -- shot at close range, according to the prosecutor's office.

But the court ruled in February it was not satisfied that "there was sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe that Bahar Idriss Abu Garda could be held criminally responsible."

The prosecution then announced its intention to appeal.

Monday's decision "does not preclude the prosecution from subsequently requesting the confirmation of the charges against Abu Garda if such request is supported by additional evidence," the statement said.

Abu Garda appeared before the court for a preliminary hearing last year -- the first accused person to yield voluntarily to the jurisdiction of the ICC and the first suspect in the Darfur conflict to appear before the court.

He denied all charges.

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.

The ICC has to date issued three arrest warrants over the Darfur conflict -- including one in March 2009 for Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir, who rejects the court's jurisdiction.

The ICC is the world's only independent, permanent court with the jurisdiction to try genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

© 2010 AFP

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