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International Court Considers War Crimes Charges Against Former Chad Leader

A top United Nations court in The Hague is considering Belgium's request that Senegal put former Chadian President Hissene Habre on trial for war crimes or extradite him to face trial in Brussels.

The International Court of Justice is scheduled to hear until Wednesday Belgium's argument that former Chadian leader Hissene Habre must be brought to justice, either in Senegal, where he is under house arrest, or in Belgium, if the Senegalese government does not put him on trial.

Habre is accused of torturing and killing thousands of opponents in the 1980s. Lawyers for Belgium told the court on Monday that Habre might go into hiding if Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade lifts his house arrest. Mr. Wade has warned he might do so if funding is not found for a trial in Senegal.

Habre has lived in Senegal's capital, Dakar, since rebels toppled him from power in 1990. In 2000, he was charged in Dakar with complicity in crimes against humanity, and acts of torture and savagery. Six years later, Senegal agreed to try Habre under an African Union mandate.

But Senegal has yet to do so, arguing it needs nearly $40 million for the trial, a sum the international community says is too much.

But Sidiki Kaba, one of the lawyers representing the victims in the Habre case, says Senegal had an obligation to put the ousted leader on trial.

Kaba says Senegal must fulfill its international obligations. He adds that Senegal ratified the international convention against torture, which obliges it to judge somebody who has been extradited on acts of torture.

The court's ruling on whether Habre should remain under house arrest in Senegal could take weeks, while its decision on whether Dakar should try him could take years.