Darfur rebel chief summoned

THE HAGUE: A Darfur rebel accused over a 2007 attack that killed 12 peacekeepers in the war-torn Sudanese province is set to appear before the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges.

Bahr Idriss Abu Garda, who led a splinter faction of the anti-government Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), surrendered to the court in The Hague on Sunday.

He will be the first to appear before the ICC regarding the Darfur conflict, which the UN says has claimed 300,000 lives and displaced more than 2.2 million since 2003, when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated regime for a greater share of resources and power.

The Sudanese government says 10,000 people have been killed.

The ICC, the world's only permanent tribunal for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, announced Sunday that Abu Garda had arrived in the Netherlands and would appear before a judge at 3:00 pm (1300 GMT) on Monday.

Believed to be in his 40s, he faces three counts of war crimes for an attack against African Union peacekeepers at Haskanita in north Darfur in September 2007 that killed 12 soldiers and seriously wounded eight.

ICC prosecutor Jose Moreno-Ocampo has described the act as "the most serious attack against peacekeepers in Darfur".

"By killing peacekeepers, the perpetrators attacked the millions of civilians who those soldiers came to protect," the prosecutor said in a statement Sunday.

Moreno-Ocampo claims the attack was carried out by splinter forces of the JEM, under the command of Abu Garda, jointly with troops belonging to another armed group.

No arrest warrant had been issued for Abu Garda, as he had said he would appear before the court willingly -- the first ever to do so.

The ICC has issued three arrest warrants in connection with its four-year-old investigation into the Darfur conflict -- including one for Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir, who has refused to cooperate.

The court will on Monday read the charges against Abu Garda and inform him of his rights.

He would be allowed to leave for Darfur afterwards, to return to The Hague later for a hearing to determine whether there are sufficient grounds for a trial.