THE HAGUE– Former Central African Republic militia leader Alfred Yekatom arrived at the International Criminal Court’s detention centre in The Hague ahead of his trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, a ICC spokesman said.
Currently a lawmaker, Yekatom’s extradition was the first of its kind from the CAR.
“The suspect arrived in the detention centre”, said ICC spokesperson Fadi El Abdallah of the former army officer, who was the target of US sanctions in 2015 for suspected attacks against Muslims, civilian deaths, and for using child fighters.
After being elected to parliament in 2016, Yekatom, 43, was arrested in October for opening fire inside the legislature while its new president was being elected.
ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda welcomed the extradition, saying it “advances the cause of justice in the Central African Republic” and promising that she would continue to pursue her “quest for truth and justice”.
Pierre Brunisso from the International Federation of Human Rights watchdog added that it sent “a strong message to the leaders of armed groups”.
“Those who think they can claim an amnesty at the negotiating table are mistaken,” he said.
The ICC said Yekatom would be tried for “alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity” carried out by so-called anti-balaka militias.
The court launched an investigation in September 2014 into crimes committed in the country since 2012.
A three-judge bench of The Hague-based court’s pre-trial chamber issued an arrest warrant against Yekatom on Nov 11.
“The Chamber is satisfied that the overall supporting evidence is sufficient to establish reasonable grounds that Yekatom bears criminal responsibility,” the judges said in the warrant, made public by the ICC.
This included acts of murder, torture, deportation and using child soldiers younger than 15 years in the anti-balaka group between Dec 5, 2013 and Aug 2014.
In continuing violence in the CAR, a Tanzanian peacekeeper died late on Friday Nov 16 after an attack on a United Nations base and a priest was found burned to death, the UN and the Catholic Church said after sectarian clashes that claimed nearly 40 lives.
The soldier died of injuries sustained in the raid on the base in Gbambia in the country’s west, the UN mission MINUSCA said.
Meanwhile, the priest’s charred body was recovered in the central town of Alindao, Father Mathieu Bondobo, vicar-general of the main cathedral in Bangui, said.
The UN said 37 deaths were confirmed in Alindao – including that of another priest – while 20,000 people were affected by the violence. Thousands were forced to flee.
The bloodletting began Nov 15 when Christian militiamen killed Muslims, prompting revenge attacks during which a church was set ablaze.
Alindao is a stronghold of the Union for Peace in CAR (UPC), a Muslim militia. It has witnessed fightings in recent months that has also killed other UN soldiers and a humanitarian aid worker.
One of the world’s poorest nations despite a rich supply of diamonds and uranium, the CAR has struggled to recover from a 2013 civil war that erupted when President Francois Bozize was overthrown by mainly Seleka rebels.
In September, the UN warned of a “disastrous” humanitarian situation in the region, which it said was under the control of armed groups.
The government controls only a small part of the country.
The UN has about 12,500 personnel deployed in the CAR as part of its MINUSCA mission, one of the world body’s largest peacekeeping forces.
Source: NAM NEWS NETWORK