File Photo: Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman appearing before the ICC via video-link from the ICC Detention Centre taken on 15 June 2020. Photo courtesy of International criminal court website
The trial of Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, a militia leader accused of atrocities in Sudan's Darfur conflict, will start next April, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced on Wednesday.
Abd-Al-Rahman, 70, an ally of deposed Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir, was a senior commander of the Janjaweed militia -- a notorious armed group created by the government.
He will be the first suspect to be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity over the bloody conflict.
The court's first trial chamber, comprising three judges, "scheduled the opening of the trial... for 5 April 2022,' the ICC said in a statement.
The United Nations says 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million people were displaced in the 2003-4 Darfur conflict.
Fighting broke out when black African rebels, complaining of systematic discrimination, took up arms against Bashir's Arab-dominated regime.
Khartoum responded by unleashing the Janjaweed, a force drawn from among the region's nomadic tribes.
In April 2007, the Hague-based court issued an arrest warrant for Abd-Al-Rahman, also known by the nom du guerre of Ali Kushayb.
He fled to the Central African Republic (CAR) in February 2020 when the new Sudanese government announced its intention to cooperate with the ICC investigation.
Four months later, he surrendered voluntarily.
In May this year, the ICC staged hearings to assess whether there was enough evidence for a full trial.
Prosecutors detailing 31 charges against Abd-Al-Rahman told the court that in August 2003 he, with the support of government forces, was responsible for brutal attacks on villages in the Wadi Salih area.
The men carried out murder, rape and destroyed homes, and many people who fled were later hunted down and killed in cold blood, they said.
Abd-Al-Rahman personally killed up to three male detainees with a "stick or axe-like object", according to the charge sheet.
Bashir, who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for three decades, was deposed in April 2019 following months of protests.
He has been wanted by the ICC for more than a decade on accusations of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In August, Sudan and the ICC signed a cooperation deal, an important step towards any trial of the former leader.