Ivory Coast youth leader asks government to reject ICC warrant

ABIDJAN Wed Oct 23, 2013 2:40pm EDT

Charles Ble Goude, minister of youth and employment in Ivory Coast's incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo's government, speaks during a rally with youths in Yopougon, Abidjan in this file photo taken December 29, 2010. REUTERS/ Thierry Gouegnon

Charles Ble Goude, minister of youth and employment in Ivory Coast's incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo's government, speaks during a rally with youths in Yopougon, Abidjan in this file photo taken December 29, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/ Thierry Gouegnon

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Charles Ble Goude, wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and an ally of Ivory Coast's ex-president Laurent Gbagbo, should be tried by an Ivorian court and not sent to The Hague, the ex-youth leader's lawyers said.

Gbagbo, who refused to give up power after losing a runoff election in 2010, has been in the ICC's custody since November 2011, accused of responsibility for rapes, murders, persecution and inhuman acts committed during the post-election fighting that killed around 3,000 people.

The ICC earlier this month made public a warrant for Ble Goude, who headed the notorious Young Patriots street militia and served as youth minister in Gbagbo's last cabinet, for his alleged role in the violence.

"We ask that the Ivorian government does not agree to transfer him to the ICC, because we think the Ivorian justice system is capable ... of doing it here," Claver N'Dri, one of his lawyers, told a press conference in Abidjan on Wednesday.

Though the government of President Alassane Ouattara agreed to hand over Gbagbo, it has become less keen on cooperating with the international court as it comes under fire from African governments who say it unfairly targets the continent.

The African Union and Kenya asked the U.N. Security Council this week to defer ICC trials of Kenya's leaders for a year so they can deal with the aftermath of the Nairobi mall attack.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto face charges of crimes against humanity related to violence that followed Kenya's 2007 elections, in which 1,200 people died.

Both deny the charges and have tried to have the prosecutions adjourned or halted.

Last month Ivory Coast said it would try former first lady Simone Gbagbo, who is also being sought by the ICC, in a domestic court.

"We say that what is valid for Simone Gbagbo is also valid for Charles Ble Goude. The Ivorian justice system is already pursuing him and he is in detention here. So he must be judged in Ivory Coast," N'Dri said.

Ouattara's government has so far declined to say whether it would deliver Ble Goude to The Hague-based court.

Ble Goude's lawyers also requested the government release him pending his trial, claiming that doing so would help Ivory Coast's efforts to foster reconciliation.

The ICC is seeking to charge Ble Goude, who was arrested in Ghana and extradited to Ivory Coast in January, with four counts of crimes against humanity, including murder and rape, committed between December 2010 and April 2011.

Ble Goude denies the accusations, his lawyers said.

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

He is also the target of United Nations-imposed sanctions including a travel ban and asset freeze.

(Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by David Lewis and Mike Collett-White)

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