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Africa mulls Darfur courts plan

A Sudanese refugee at Djabal Refugee Camp, file image
Many thousands of Darfuri refugees still live in camps - many in Chad

Hybrid courts with Sudanese and foreign judges should investigate violence in Sudan's Darfur region, a report by ex-South Africa leader Thabo Mbeki says.

The report, commissioned by the African Union, says the Khartoum government - widely held responsible for the abuses - should help choose the judges.

African leaders are considering the report at a meeting in Abuja, Nigeria.

The UN says some 300,000 people were killed in Darfur's six-year conflict. Khartoum says about 10,000 died.

Violence flared in Darfur in 2003 when black African rebel groups took up arms against the government in Khartoum, complaining of discrimination and neglect.

DARFUR CONFLICT
Map
300,000 died, 2.7 million homeless
Black African rebels say they face discrimination
Government denies mobilising Arab militias

Pro-government Arab militias then started a campaign of violence, targeting the black African population.

Sudan President Omar al-Bashir is the subject of an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over claims he backed the militias - allegations he denies.

The Nigerian government invited him to attend Thursday's meeting in Abuja, sparking outrage among rights groups who called for him to be arrested if he made an appearance.

It is understood he opted not to attend the meeting, Sudan instead being represented by Vice-President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha.

He is among the leaders considering the findings of Mr Mbeki's team.

'Deep vision'

The BBC's Africa analyst Martin Plaut says the 148-page report is written in diplomatic language, but it still makes clear that previous attempts to deal with justice in Darfur have made little progress.

ANALYSIS
Martin Plaut
Martin Plaut
BBC Africa analyst

The process of delegating which judges would sit on the courts will be decided by the AU "in consultation with the government of Sudan". And here lies the difficulty.

What will happen if the African Union and the Sudanese government do not see eye to eye with each other on the composition or working of these courts?

The government in Khartoum has years of experience in dealing with outside pressure and international diplomats have long complained of its ability to clog up any process with which it does not agree.

The key question - therefore - will be the degree to which President Bashir supports the Mbeki suggestion for a hybrid court.

Neither the special courts established by the Sudanese government nor the ICC warrant are considered to have contributed to peace.

Instead the panel recommends setting up a special hybrid court comprised of Sudanese judges and other judges selected by the African Union.

They would sit together to try some of the most serious cases of human rights abuse in Darfur.

But our reporter says giving the Khartoum government a say in who the judges are means the key issue is whether Mr Bashir is willing to support Mr Mbeki's proposals.

Mr Taha said Khartoum approves of the "deep vision" contained in the report "about elections being held all over Sudan, especially Darfur".

But he said the hybrid courts would set a precedent for all other disputes in Africa and so needed to be discussed further.

"Recommendations that need further dialogue include the establishment of a new justice mechanism," Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

"That needs closer scrutiny [to see] if it is in line with the constitution."



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