AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - International Criminal Court prosecutors Wednesday accused two Sudanese rebels of responsibility for the killing of 12 African Union peacekeepers in Darfur in 2007.
The hearing was to determine whether rebel leaders Abdallah Banda Abakaer Nourain and Saleh Mohammed Jerbo Jamus -- who were not in court -- should stand trial for the deaths. Both men had earlier declined to attend the proceedings.
Banda and Jerbo are accused of three counts of war crimes, including murder, directing attacks against personnel and installations involved in a peacekeeping mission, and pillaging.
“Banda and Jerbo personally led and physically participated in the attack,” ICC senior trial lawyer Essa Faal told the court, citing witnesses.
“Abdallah Banda was in the convoy in the front ... We arrived at the base and then immediately started firing at the base,” according to one witness statement read out in court.
“Saleh Jerbo opened fire on the AU forces. The AU responded but they were shooting in the air,” read another witness statement.
Both men described themselves as revolutionaries when they appeared voluntarily in court in June, saying they would clear their names in the case, part of the tribunal’s efforts to try those responsible for the Darfur conflict that the United Nations says has killed 300,000 since 2003.
About 1,000 rebels attacked the African Union peacekeeping base at Haskanita in northern Darfur in September 2007, killing 12 soldiers and severely wounding eight others.
It was the worst assault on AU forces since 2004 when the then 7,000-strong mission was deployed to western Sudan.
Prosecutors allege the attack was carried out by splinter forces of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) under the command of Banda, jointly with troops belonging to the Sudanese Liberation Army-Unity under the command of Jerbo.
Three rebel leaders were charged over the killings, but the ICC in February dismissed the charges against Bahr Idris Abu Garda. The prosecutor’s office has indicated that it intends to present fresh evidence against Abu Garda.
The pre-trial chamber must decide within 60 days of the hearing whether Banda and Jerbo should stand trial.
Additional reporting by Sara Webb; Editing by Janet Lawrence