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War crimes court sends C.Africa suspects for trial

1 min 16Approximate reading time

The International Criminal Court on Wednesday sent a former top Central African Republic football official and a militiaman nicknamed Rambo for trial after confirming war crimes charges against them.

Former sports minister Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona was allegedly a senior leader of mainly Christian militias as the country descended into war in 2013 to 2014, while Alfred Yekatom is accused of commanding so-called anti-Balaka fighters on the ground.

Following a hearing in September to decide whether there was enough evidence against the pair, judges made a "unanimous decision partially confirming the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity... and committed them to trial."

Judges said there were "substantial grounds" to accuse them of crimes including directing attacks against civilians, murder, rape, forcible displacement, pillaging, cruel treatment, torture, and persecution.

The court "declined to confirm the remaining charges that were not supported by the evidence presented by the prosecutor."

Ngaissona was arrested in France in December 2018 and then extradited to the Hague on an ICC warrant. At the time he was head of the CAR football association and board member of the Confederation of African Football (CAF).

FIFA banned him from football for six years in November after finding him guilty of charges including "discrimination and of failing to protect, respect or safeguard integrity and human dignity" related to the CAR conflict.

Ngaissona was a key supporter of then-president Francois Bozize, who was ousted by mainly Muslim Seleka rebels in 2013, sparking vicious intercommunal fighting, the court heard in September.

Yekatom meanwhile was extradited to The Hague in late 2018.

Styling himself as Commander Rambo, after the movie character played by Sylvester Stallone, Yekatom led a force of thousands of people including child soldiers, the prosecutor said in September.

Thousands of UN peacekeepers remain in the CAR despite more than a dozen militias signing up to an eighth attempted peace agreement with the Central African government early this year.

Fighting has forced nearly a quarter of the country's 4.5 million people to flee their homes since 2003 when Bozize seized power in a coup.

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