International

France sends top CAF official to war crimes court

2019-01-23 16:22

The Hague - France on Wednesday extradited a member of Africa's top footballing body to the International Criminal Court in The Hague where he faces war crimes charges, the ICC said.

Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona, who sits on the board of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), is charged with coordinating so-called anti-Balaka militia which emerged after civil war broke out in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2013.

The former CAR sports minister was arrested in France on December 12 on an ICC warrant, and a court in Paris ruled on December 31 that he could be transferred to the tribunal in the Netherlands.

Ngaissona has denied the charges.

The court said Ngaissona was extradited by France Wednesday "pursuant to an ICC arrest warrant for crimes against humanity and war crimes allegedly committed in the Central African Republic."

"This transfer followed the completion of necessary national proceedings in France", it said.

A date for Ngaissona's first appearance at the ICC would be announced "soon", the court said. The hearing would verify his identity and preferred language for legal proceedings, and he would be officially "informed of the charges against him", it added.

Ngaissona, who is head of the Central African Republic's football association, was controversially elected to the executive board of the CAF general assembly in February.

The Balaka militia he was allegedly involved with were set up to defend Christian communities from mostly Muslim rebels during the conflict in his country.

The militia are accused of a host of human rights abuses including mass killings and mutilations. 

In court in France on December 19, Ngaissona said: "I was a spokesman who brought peace to the Central African Republic and not a warlord."

Two anti-Balaka groups said after his arrest that they were withdrawing from a disarmament programme. 

Former colonial power France sent 2,000 troops to help stabilise the conflict-torn CAR in 2013 and attempted to detain Ngaissona a year later during an operation in his fiefdom in the north of the capital Bangui.

The ICC suspects Ngaissona of being the "most senior leader and the 'National General Coordinator' of the anti-Balaka" and therefore responsible for crimes in several parts of the country.

The alleged crimes include murder, torture, mutilation, intentionally targeting and displacing civilians, pillaging, and enlisting child soldiers.

In 2015, Ngaissona was barred from running in presidential elections over concerns about his role in the violence, but has previously said that "everything I've done has been for the good of my country".

In February, he was elected to a CAF board seat representing eight central African nations. The CAF said his candidacy respected "strict statutory criteria" but noted the body did not have an ethics committee.

"If the allegations were true, I wouldn't be here today," Ngaissona told AFP in February, saying he didn't want "to mix politics and sport".

Ngaissona's arrest last year came just weeks after another suspected militia leader - Alfred Yekatom, known as Rambo - was detained in the Central African Republic and transferred to The Hague.

The ICC has launched investigations into at least eight African countries since its establishment in 2002, including several into the violence in CAR. 

But prosecutors have suffered a series of blows in recent months.

In 2018 the ICC overturned the conviction of Jean-Pierre Bemba, former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, for war crimes committed by his rebel army in CAR in 2002-2003. 

Last week ICC judges acquitted former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo over a deadly wave of post-electoral violence. He remains in detention awaiting the result of an appeal by the prosecution.

Read more on:    france  |  caf  |  soccer

 

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