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Central African militia suspects, one a soccer boss, hear war crimes charges

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) said two alleged leaders of Central African Republic militias, one of them prominent in African football, used self-defence groups to violently target the country’s Muslim population.

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Prosecutors said Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona, who later became an executive for the African football association, fanned the flames of ethnic conflict after being ousted by the mainly Muslim “Seleka” militias in 2013.

“From exile, mister Ngaissona ... used (Christian militias) and exploited their vengeance and hatred to defeat the Seleka,” lead prosecutor Kweku VanderPuy told judges at a “confirmation of charges” hearing at which he outline his case on Thursday.

After hearing the prosecution case, judges will decide if there is enough evidence to move forward with a trial. Ngaissona and his co-accused, Alfred Yekatom, have previously denied wrongdoing.

Prosecutors have said Ngaissona was one of the most senior leaders of Christian-dominated militias known as the “anti-balaka”, while Yekatom was a commander in the same forces during fighting in 2013-2014. The name in the local Sango language implies the ability to stop enemy weapons.

The Central African Republic has been mired in violence since a coalition of mostly northern and predominantly Muslim rebels known as Seleka, or “alliance” in Sango, seized power in March 2013. Their brutal rule gave rise to the opposing anti-balaka militias.

Ngaissona and Yekatom were accused of participating in a plan to target Muslims thought to support the Seleka and committing crimes including persecution, murder, torture, rape, use of child soldiers and targeting civilians.

Yekatom’s defence argued prosecutors have unfairly hampered their defence by failing to disclose most evidence related to alleged crimes committed by the Seleka.

A separate ICC investigation into alleged Seleka crimes is ongoing.

Central African human rights organisations present at the hearing said the trial was being followed closely in the capital Bangui, where some feel there is a double standard.

“You cannot only charge one side and leave the other side. We feel the ICC should prosecute both camps,” Mathias Morouba, of the Central African OCDH rights watchdog, told Reuters.

Ngaissona and Yekatom were transferred to the court last year. At the time of his arrest Ngaissona was a member of the executive council of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), the game’s governing body in Africa.

Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Alex Richardson