THE HAGUE, Netherlands: Two Darfur rebel leaders are to go on trial in May next year for the 2007 killings of 12 African Union peacekeepers in the war-torn western region of Sudan, the International Criminal Court said on Wednesday.
Abdallah Banda and Saleh Jerbo face three war crimes charges for leading an attack in northern Darfur in September 2007, when a force armed with rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns opened fire on the AU's military base at Haskanita.
"Today, the trial chamber set the date for the commencement of trial for May 5, 2014," the Hague-based ICC said in a statement, setting the stage for the first trial for crimes committed in the Darfur region.
About 1,000 assailants took part in the massive attack targeting peacekeepers from the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), during which the base was also looted.
Banda, around 50, and Jerbo, around 39, who are not in custody, appeared voluntarily before the court in June 2010 and urged other war crimes suspects to surrender to justice.
The court's judges confirmed in March 2010 there was enough evidence to put them on trial for "violence to life, intentionally directing attacks against peacekeepers and pillaging," but did not set a trial date.
The judges "considered that the trial cannot start before necessary measures are put in place to ensure that... any risks of interruptions to the trial proceedings are minimised," the ICC said.
This included witness protection and training interpreters to speak Zaghawa in order to allow the suspects "to follow proceedings in a language they can understand."
The ICC declined to comment on the two suspects' current whereabouts.
Four others are wanted for war crimes in Darfur: Sudanese Defence Minister Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein, former Sudanese government minister Ahmad Harun, pro-government Janjaweed militia leader Ali Kushayb, and Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, whom prosecutors accuse of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.
Bashir continues to defy an ICC arrest warrant as he travels around the continent, including making a visit to Chad in February for a regional summit.
Despite Chad being a signatory to the ICC's founding treaty, it failed to arrest Bashir, prompting a formal ICC notice to the Chadian government reminding it of its obligation.
At least 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur and two million people forced to flee their homes since non-Arab rebels first rose up against the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime in 2003, the United Nations says.
The government puts the death toll at 10,000.