Wanted Pro-Gbagbo youth leader sent home to Ivory Coast

ABIDJAN Fri Jan 18, 2013 6:43pm EST

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - A fugitive youth leader and close ally of Ivory Coast's ex-president Laurent Gbagbo was sent home from Ghana on Friday and taken into police custody, the Ivorian government said in a statement.

Charles Ble Goude had been sought on one of more than two dozen international warrants issued by the Ivorian government following a brief post-election civil war in 2011.

Arrested in the Ghanaian capital Accra on Thursday, he is the first Gbagbo ally to be handed over by Ghana, and his transfer could have ramifications for other former top officials living in exile there.

"In a joint police operation between Ghana and Ivory Coast, Charles Ble Goude was apprehended," the government said in a statement read out on state television.

"He is currently being held in Ivory Coast by Ivorian police authorities in the framework of judicial proceedings already launched against him in Ivory Coast," it continued.

Ble Goude was the head of the Young Patriot street militia, whose members played the role of street enforcers for the regime under Gbagbo, who is now awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

He rose to become minister of youth before fleeing at the end of the conflict sparked by Gbagbo's refusal to accept a 2010 election defeat to Alassane Ouattara.

Ivorian authorities accuse him of kidnappings, illegal detentions, torture, incitement of hatred and economic crimes while a member of Gbagbo's inner circle.

His supporters say the charges are politically motivated, and on Friday accused the governments of both Ivory Coast and Ghana of rushing his transfer.

"From a judicial standpoint, I don't believe his transfer conformed to international norms and procedures," said Toussaint Alain, a former Gbagbo advisor and spokesman for Ble Goude's defense team.

"According to my information, his lawyer, who attempted to meet with him all day, did not have access to him," he said.

ATTACKS

Most top military and political officials from Gbagbo's regime were killed, are in jail in Ivory Coast or now live in exile, many of them in Ghana.

The government of Ouattara, now president, accuses them of being behind a wave of attacks on Ivorian security installations and infrastructure that began last August.

A United Nations expert panel found that Gbagbo's supporters had established a strategic command in Ghana and were orchestrating the violence in an attempt to destabilize the new authorities in Ivory Coast.

Ble Goude, who is currently on the United Nations' sanction list and subject to a travel ban and asset freeze, is accused by the experts of raising money to purchase weapons for use in the attacks.

Gbagbo supporters accuse Ouattara of using the violence as a pretext for a crackdown on the opposition that rights groups say has included illegal arrests and torture.

Ghana had repeatedly stated it considers the exiles to be refugees and had declined to extradite any Gbagbo supporters despite Ivorian requests, raising tensions between the two neighbors.

Ivory Coast closed the border between the two countries for more than two weeks last September, claiming fighters had crossed over from Ghana to attack an Ivorian town.

However, Accra has since pledged to would work with its neighbor to ensure to its territory is not used to destabilize Ivory Coast.

"Ghana had no choice but to show good faith towards its neighbor ... I am not surprised Ble Goude was swiftly extradited," a West African diplomat told Reuters.

(Reporting By Joe Bavier; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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