Alfred Yekatom, a war crimes suspect wanted for alleged atrocities against Muslims in the Central African Republic (CAR), has been extradited to The Hague to stand trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The announcement by the tribunal on Saturday came days after issuing a warrant against Yekatom – a sitting member of parliament once nicknamed “Rambo” – for his alleged criminal responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity
The ICC launched an investigation in September 2014 into crimes committed in the resource-rich but poor country since 2012.
A former army officer, Yekatom is an ex-militia leader within the so-called “Anti-balaka” movement, which was carrying out a systematic attack against the Muslim population.
The Netherlands-based court alleges that Yekatom commanded some 3,000 Christian Anti-balaka fighters responsible for atrocities committed in the CAR between December 2013 and August 2014.
In 2015, he became the target of US sanctions for suspected attacks against Muslims, civilian deaths and for using 153 child fighters.
Yekatom was elected to parliament in 2016. He was arrested in October for opening fire inside the legislature while its new president was being elected.
Commenting on the extradition, Pierre Brunisso, from the International Federation of Human Rights watchdog, called it “a strong message” to the leaders of armed groups.
“Those who think they can claim an amnesty at the negotiating table are mistaken.”
The International Federation for Human Rights also welcomed Yekatom’s transfer to ICC custody.
The move “confirms the authorities’ commitment to cooperate with the ICC when they are unable to pursue those most responsible for war crimes”, Drissa Traore, a vice president of the federation, said.
But in continuing unrest, a Tanzanian peacekeeper died late on Friday after an attack on a United Nations base and a priest was found burned to death following violence earlier this week in Alindao town that killed dozens of people and forced thousands of others to flee.
The CAR has struggled to recover from a 2013 civil war that erupted when President Francois Bozize, a Christian, was overthrown by mainly Muslim Seleka rebels.
In response, Christians, who account for about 80 percent of the population, organised vigilante units dubbed Anti-balaka.
The conflict has killed thousands of people and caused the displacement of a fifth of the country’s 4.5 million population. More than 642,000 have been internally displaced, according to the UN.
The world body has about 12,500 personnel deployed in the CAR as part of its MINUSCA mission, one of its biggest peacekeeping forces.