A senior football chief from the Central African Republic along with an alleged militiaman named Rambo have heard charges against them at a Hague court. Both are accused of leading a campaign of terror against Muslims.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Thursday considered charges of serious war crimes against two alleged former rebel leaders in the Central African Republic (CAR).
Former politician Alfred Yekaton, 44, and former football association on head Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona, 52, stand accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The two men, who allegedly led Christian militia groups in the country's 2013-14 civil war, deny the allegations.
The tribunal is set, first of all, to determine the legality of the case and if there is sufficient evidence to open formal proceedings. The allegations include involvement in murder, deportation and torture, as well as enforced disappearance, mutilation and the recruitment of child soldiers.
Lead prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the pair were instrumental in a murderous campaign of terror against the country's Muslim community.
"The Muslim population was relentlessly terrorized," said Bensouda's statement to the court.
Ngaissona, who faces 111 charges, was at the helm of the CAR football association and a board member of the Confederation of African Football (CAF). He was arrested in France in December. He was subsequently extradited to The Hague on an ICC warrant.
'Looting and pillaging'
According to the court, he was a key supporter of the then-President Francois Bozize, who was toppled by the mainly Muslim Seleka group in 2013. The ouster sparked bitter inter-communal fighting.
The prosecution contended that Ngaissona had "exploited the hatred" that Christian anti-Balaka militias felt due to atrocities committed by the Seleka forces. The militias were said to have embarked on "armed convoys killing, looting and pillaging as they went", driving many Muslims from their homes.
Yekatom, who faces 21 charges, had subsequently become a sitting member of country's parliament but was arrested in the CAR last year. During the violence, he was said to have styled himself as the film character Rambo. The court heard he had an "important" role in the plan to drive out Muslims, commanding thousands of men.
Yekatom's lawyer Mylene Dmitri complained to the court that prosecutors had withheld evidence from their investigations into the Seleka. Yekatom "is defending himself in the dark," she said.
Neither of the two men entered an initial plea at the pre-trial hearing.
The diamond-rich but poverty-stricken CAR has struggled to recover from the conflict. Despite a period of relative calm in 2016, fighting broke out again in early 2017, and the country remains volatile.
(Reuters, AP, AFP)