Darfur rebels face terrorism trial for attack

/ Source: The Associated Press

Sudan's justice minister on Monday said Darfur rebels accused of an attack near Khartoum last month will stand trial on charges of terrorism.

No one has been charged yet, but the minister, Abdel Basset Sabdarat, told The Associated Press the trials were due to begin this week. The prosecutor-general will determine who will be charged, he said.

Hundreds of fighters from the Justice and Equality Movement, which has emerged as one of the most powerful Darfur rebel groups, staged the bold attack on Khartoum's twin city, Omdurman in mid-May.

The rebels were repelled, but more than 200 people were killed in the fighting, according to Sudan's defense minister. Sudanese were shocked by the rebel assault, which happened hundreds of miles from their bases in the west. The raid was the closest that Darfur's rebels have gotten to the seat of the government.

It is unknown how many people were arrested since the attack. New York-based Human Rights Watch, citing witnesses, said in mid-May at least 100 people were arrested at checkpoints and in house-to-house searches.

Five special courts will try an undetermined number of suspects on terrorism charges, Sudan's chief judge, Jalaleddin Othman, said in a statement. Another appellate court was also set up for the defendants, Othman said. Sabdarat said the trials would most likely take place on Wednesday.

Rebels promise retaliation
Sudan's 2001 terrorism law applies to cases involving people accused of carrying guns against the state, terrorizing citizens, collaborating with a foreign country and undermining the country's constitution. People convicted under this law can face the death penalty.

A spokesman for another Darfur rebel group, Sudan's Liberation Army-Unity faction, threatened to retaliate if the trials take place.

"We reiterate that Darfuris are innocent of terrorism charges. The government is the source of terrorism," Majhoub Hussein said in a telephone interview from London. He said 23 SLA-Unity members were arrested following the attack.

"We will meet these trials with countermeasures, whether assassination or liquidation ... of any government official or politician, from the security or army, or from the leadership of the (ruling) National Congress Party without exemption, including the president," he said.

The credibility of his threats was unclear. Darfur rebel groups have splintered into many factions with no clear command structure and shifting loyalties. Hussein said his group has coordinated with the JEM forces to "bring down the regime."

The conflict in Darfur erupted in 2003 when ethnic Africans in western Sudan took up arms against the central government in Khartoum, accusing it of marginalization and monopolizing resources.

As many as 300,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced since the violence began. Until the Omdurman attack, the conflict was mostly confined to Darfur.