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Rebel commander defiant over Sudan war crimes hearing

  • Story Highlights
  • Bahr Idriss Abu Garda faces charges in deaths of peacekeepers in 2007
  • 12 killed when a soldiers stormed North Darfur African Union peacekeeping base
  • Abu Garda scheduled to appear at the pretrial hearing at 3 p.m. Monday
  • Three other suspects, including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, are at large
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(CNN) -- A Sudanese rebel commander accused of responsibility for the deadliest attack on African Union peacekeepers in Darfur faced an International Criminal Court hearing Monday.

Sudanese rebel commander Bahar Idriss Abu Garda was summoned to appear before the ICC.

Sudanese rebel commander Bahar Idriss Abu Garda was summoned to appear before the ICC.

Bahr Idriss Abu Garda spoke only briefly during his short court appearance at The Hague, to thank the court.

Garda surrendered himself to the court voluntarily.

His spokesman said earlier he was not guilty and that he had come to The Hague to show an unwavering commitment to justice.

"We know how innocent he is. After the court, he will be freed. He will return to Darfur to continue his struggle," said Tadjadine Bechirniam, communications director for Garda.

Garda is charged with three war crimes allegedly committed in September 2007, when rebel-led soldiers stormed an African Union peacekeeping base in Haskanita, in northern Darfur. Twelve peacekeepers were killed and eight were wounded, in the deadliest single attack on African Union peacekeepers since they began their mission in late 2004.

Bechirniam said he could not speak about Garda's defense before the pre-trial hearing.

Garda faces charges of murder, directing attacks on peacekeepers and pillaging.

"There should be no immunity for anyone. We show our commitment to justice, to support justice for people in Darfur and Sudan," Bechirniam said in explaining why Garda is voluntarily appearing before the court. Garda believes in the court's independence, his spokesman said.

Three other suspects, including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, also were summoned, but remain at large.

"The voluntary appearance of Abu Garda might serve to encourage other suspects currently at large to come before the court to be heard with all guarantees of a fair trial," said Silvana Arbia, registrar of the international court.

The attack on the African Union peacekeepers came months before the 7,000-strong force was replaced by a joint A.U./U.N. peacekeeping force of 26,000 troops.

The conflict in Darfur began in 2003 after rebels in the western region of Sudan began attacking government positions. Sudan's government responded with a fierce military campaign that has led to some 200,000 deaths and forced 2 million people to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.

All About International Criminal CourtThe HagueDarfurSudan

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