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Darfur rebel figures will not contest charges of killing AU peacekeepers: ICC

October 20, 2010 (WASHINGTON) – Two Sudanese rebel leaders who stand accused of leading a deadly attack on African Union (AU) peacekeepers more than three years ago will not contest the charges at the confirmation hearing scheduled for next month, the prosecutor’s office at the International Criminal Court (ICC) said today.

Abdallah Banda Abakaer Nourain and Saleh Mohammed Jerbo Jamus each face three counts of violence to life in the form of murder, war crime of attacking a peacekeeping mission and pillaging.

The two men allegedly commanded a 1,000-strong rebel force in the Sept. 29, 2007 attack, on the African Mission in Sudan (AMIS) base in Haskanita in North Darfur. They looted the camp of 17 vehicles, refrigerators, computers, mobile phones, ammunition and money.

The attack killed twelve soldiers and severely injured eight others who were mainly from Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and Botswana. It was the deadliest single attack on the peacekeepers since they began their mission in late 2004.

Banda was a senior military commander in Darfur’s rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) before he was dismissed during a bitter split among the movement’s governing elite in mid-2007. He went on to form a rival faction, the JEM Collective Leadership, with former JEM vice president Bahar Idriss Abu Garda. The latter appeared voluntarily before the ICC to answer charges relating to the same attack but the court declined to pursue those charges in February citing insufficient evidence to prove his criminal responsibility.

Jerbo on the other hand was a leading figure in the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM)-Unity faction before being removed later for unknown reasons.

The two suspects surrendered voluntarily to the ICC last June, almost a year after a summons of appear was issued for them in secrecy and appeared before a judge to be formally notified of the charges. Presiding judge Sylvia Steiner from Brazil set November 22nd as the date for a hearing to confirm the charges against the two men — a requirement before the case can go to trial.

The weekly briefing issued by the prosecutor on Wednesday revealed that his office and the defense made a joint filing before the Pre-Trial Chamber informing the judges of an agreement between the parties which may allow for a shortened confirmation hearing if the judges so decide.

"The parties agreed that the facts contained in the document containing the charges, which the judges are encouraged to consider, as being proven for the purpose of the confirmation hearing.....the Defence waived its rights to challenge the prosecution evidence, present its own evidence or contest the charges during the hearing. The approach agreed by the parties will involve a limited oral presentation by the Prosecution and the Legal Representatives for Victims as may be ordered by the Chamber," said the prosecutor’s office.

The prosecution described this approach as a " novel" one for the ICC and if approved by the judges "could save judicial time and resources".

"This agreement by the parties is limited to the confirmation hearing. In the event the Pre-Trial Chamber confirms the case for trial, the Defence may at that stage contest any of the charges".

Officials at the prosecutor’s office declined to comment on the new development when contacted by Sudan Tribune.

The Hague-based court, established in 2002 to try those responsible for war crimes and genocide, has also issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omer Hassan al-Bashir, who has snubbed the court and denied the allegations as part of a Western conspiracy against his government.

The ICC is investigating both sides of the Darfur conflict. In addition to the three cases involving Banda and Jerbo, Garda and Bashir, it is also seeking the arrest of two government figures namely South Kordofan governor Ahmed Haroun and militia leader Ali Kushayb for 51 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes.