Darfur militia chief to face military trial: Sudan minister

Khartoum - A powerful militia chief from Darfur, who was arrested by Sudanese forces after fierce fighting last week, will face a military trial along with his sons, a minister said Wednesday.

Musa Hilal, a former aide to President Omar al-Bashir, was arrested on Sunday by the country's counter-insurgency unit, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), near his hometown of Mustariaha in the state of North Darfur.

Hilal will face a military trial as he led a unit of border guards that was part of Sudan's armed forces, Minister of State for Defence Ali Mohamed Salem told parliament.

During the initial years of the conflict in Darfur that erupted in 2003, Hilal led the government-allied Janjaweed militia against black African rebels in the region who took up arms against Khartoum's Arab-dominated government, accusing it of economic and political marginalisation.

Hilal is subject to a United Nations travel ban and on a list of individuals sanctioned for "human rights atrocities" during the early years of the conflict.

Mohamed Salem said Hilal's fighters had been part of Sudan's armed forces since 2006.

In 2008, Hilal was appointed an adviser to Bashir, but later a rift erupted between him and the government when he accused Khartoum of ignoring his political demands.

Since then, he and hundreds of his fighters have clashed with the RSF in Darfur.

Hilal also refused to surrender his arms as part of a government campaign to disarm militias in Darfur, after which the authorities declared him a "fugitive".

"He will face a military trial because he had turned his hometown Mustariaha in to a hideout for fugitives and outlaws," Mohamed Salem said.

A Swiss aid worker who was abducted in October in Darfur and freed earlier this month had been held hostage in Mustariaha, he said.

Margaret Schankel, who had lived in Sudan for many years, was abducted from near her residence in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur.

"Hilal and his sons are in detention, and a board of inquiry will present evidence against them in court," Mohamed Salem said.

Fighting erupted on Sunday when an RSF unit was ambushed as it oversaw a weapons hand-in near Mustariaha under a disarmament programme across Darfur after the government announced the conflict in the region had ended early this year.

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