2 Sudanese rebels charged with attack on African peacekeepers appear at war crimes court

By Arthur Max, AP
Thursday, June 17, 2010

2 Sudanese rebels appear at war crimes court

AMSTERDAM — Two men charged with war crimes in the deadly 2007 attack against African Union peacekeepers in Darfur told an international court Thursday they are revolutionaries and ready to face justice.

Abdallah Banda Abakaer Nourain and Saleh Mohammed Jerbo Jamus appeared at the International Criminal Court a day after they arrived in the Netherlands and voluntarily surrendered to the court in The Hague. Prosecutors say 12 peacekeepers were killed and eight wounded in the attack, which prompted the African Union to suspend its Darfur mission.

If it goes to trial, the case would be the first to test international law that says attacking noncombatant peace forces is a war crime.

The men were accused of commanding a 1,000-strong rebel force in the assault Sept. 29, 2007, on an African Union base in the troubled region of western Sudan. The attackers looted the camp of 17 vehicles, refrigerators, computers, mobile phones, ammunition and money.

A court clerk read charges of war crimes for murder, attacking peacekeepers and plunder.

“I am a revolutionary,” Banda said when asked to confirm his identity and profession.

“I am with right and justice, because I believe in justice,” he said during the 90-minute procedural hearing.

Judge Sylvia Steiner of Brazil set Nov. 22 as the start of hearings to confirm that prosecutors have enough evidence to bring the case to trial.

U.N. officials say the war in Darfur has claimed at least 300,000 lives since it began in 2003 through violence, disease and displacement, while some 2.7 million people have been forced to flee their homes.

The court, the world’s first permanent war crimes court, has issued arrest warrants for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and two other men linked to with government. All have refused to appear, and al-Bashir’s movements have been curtailed for fear of being arrested once he leaves Sudan.

In a brief statement to the judges, echoed by Jerbo, Banda called on “everyone who has been summoned by this court to come here and exonerate themselves.”

Jerbo, 33, was a commander of the Sudanese Liberation Army-Unity. Banda, who is about 47, led splinter forces of the Justice and Equality Movement.

Three rebel leaders were summoned by the court last August to answer for the fatal attack on the Haskanita camp, but the names of Banda and Jerbo were kept secret until their surrender.

The third suspect, Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, surrendered last year. He was cleared of all charges last February after a preliminary hearing to confirm the charges against him. Judges found the attack on Haskanita was a war crime, but that prosecutors failed to prove Abu Garda’s responsibility.

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