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Senegal to Hand Fate of Ex-Chadian Leader to African Union

Former Chadian President Hissene Habre is under house arrest in Senegal, a day after a court there decided it could not rule on a Belgian request for his extradition. Belgian authorities accuse Mr. Habre of human rights abuses during eight years in power. Senegalese authorities say the African Union should decide his fate.

Senegalese authorities arrived at Hissene Habre's residence in the capital, Dakar, early Saturday, only hours after a court of appeals had released the former Chadian president, when it declared it had no jurisdiction to lift his immunity and allow him to be extradited to Belgium.

Mr. Habre was taken to Dakar's criminal investigations department and held briefly, before being returned to his home.

A statement from the Interior Ministry, read over local radio, stated that Mr. Habre is to be kept under house arrest for the next 48 hours. He will then be handed over to the African Union. It was not clear whether he would be transferred out of the country, or if he would be held in Senegal pending an African Union decision about his fate.

A member of his defense team, Doudou Ndoye, criticized the decision, saying Senegalese Interior Minister Ousmane Ngoum has no right to deliver his client to the African body.

Mr. Ndoye said, "This is something no head of state, no minister, no one, has dared do since the Second World War."

Belgium is seeking to prosecute Mr. Habre, who fled Chad in 1990, for grave and widespread human rights abuses alleged to have been committed during his eight-year rule. Belgium has what is called a universal jurisdiction law for human rights cases that allows non-Belgians to be tried there, regardless of where the abuses were committed.

A 1992 truth commission in Chad linked the deposed leader to the killing, torture and ethnic persecution of tens-of-thousands of people.

Mr. Habre denies having any knowledge of abuses committed during his time in power.

A lawyer for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, Reed Brody, is currently in Senegal, and has been trying to have Mr. Habre brought to justice for several years.

"The important thing for us is that Hissene Habre get a fair trial, that he enjoy the rights of any criminal defendant, that the victims have a chance to face him," he said..

Some African intellectuals have been opposed to Mr. Habre's extradition to Belgium. They say allowing him to be tried there undermines African justice systems.

Mr. Brody says he understands the argument, but says the international arrest warrant issued by Belgium should be respected.

"I think everybody would like to see Hissene Habre tried in Africa," he said. "If he can get a fair trial, if that's possible, that's one thing. So far, the Belgian option seems to be the one that guarantees both the victims and Habre most his rights."

It is not clear how the African Union will proceed, or whether the body will seek to put him on trial.