September 19, 2019 / 8:31 AM / a month ago

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

FILE PHOTO: Central African Republic's soccer executive and alleged militia leader, Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona appears before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands, January 25, 2019. Koen Van Weel/Pool via Reuters

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Two alleged leaders of Central African Republic militias, one of them prominent in African football, heard details of war crimes accusations against them at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Thursday.

Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona and Alfred Yekatom, who deny wrongdoing, were attending a so-called “confirmation of charges” hearing where prosecutors outline their case. Judges will then decide if there is enough evidence to move forward with a trial.

Shortly before the hearing, prosecutors published a charge sheet alleging Ngaissona was one of the most senior leaders of Christian-dominated militias, while Yekatom was a commander in the same force, during fighting in 2013-2014.

The Central African Republic has been mired in violence since a coalition of mostly northern and predominantly Muslim rebels known as Seleka seized power in March 2013. Their brutal rule gave rise to the Christian militias, who opposed them.

Ngaissona and Yekatom were accused of participating in a plan to target Muslims thought to support the Selaka and committing crimes including extermination, persecution, murder, torture and intentional attacks against civilians.

“They knew that mobilizing and using anti-Balaka (Christian) groups fueled by vengeance and hatred of Muslims ... and transforming them into a formidable fighting force would, in the ordinary course of events, result in the violent targeting of the Muslim civilian population in western Central African Republic,” the charge sheet said.

Ngaissona was arrested in France in December and extradited to the court. He had been traveling to Paris in his then-capacity as a member of the executive council of the African Football Federation (CAF), Africa’s football governing body.

Yekatom, at the time a sitting member of parliament, was handed over by the Central African Republic to the ICC in November 2018.

Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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