Alleged CAR rebel leader to face war crimes trial at ICC

ICC ‘partially’ confirms charges of war crimes against alleged Seleka leader Mahamat Said Abdel Kani, commits him to trial.

CAR spiralled into conflict in 2013 when President Francois Bozize was removed by a rebel coalition called the Seleka [File: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters]

An alleged leader of a rebel group in the Central African Republic will go on trial to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has said.

The Hague-based court, which has been considering a slew of accusations against alleged Seleka leader Mahamat Said Abdel Kani, 51, said in a statement on Thursday that it “partially confirms the charges and commits the suspect to trial”.

One of the poorest countries in the world, the CAR spiralled into conflict in 2013 when President Francois Bozize was overthrown by a rebel coalition called the Seleka, drawn largely from the Muslim minority.

The coup triggered a sectarian bloodbath between the Seleka and “Anti-balaka” forces, who were mainly Christian or animist.

The ICC said the court retained charges against Said that were committed in the capital Bangui between April and August 2013 against detained people suspected to be Bozize supporters.

The crimes included torture, imprisonment and cruel treatment.

“The chamber found that there is sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe that Mr Said was a senior member of the Seleka coalition and is criminally responsible” for those acts, the statement said.

The court rejected similar accusations against him over alleged crimes committed in a different location in Bangui between September and November 2013.

The CAR authorities handed Said to the ICC in January in response to an international arrest warrant.

Two former Anti-balaka leaders, Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona and Alfred Yekatom, are on trial at the ICC.

France, the former colonial power in the CAR, intervened militarily to stem the 2013 conflict, deploying some 2,000 soldiers under a United Nations mandate who were eventually withdrawn in 2016.

The UN deployed its peacekeeping mission the following year, which remains.

After a transition period, Faustin-Archange Touadera was elected president in February 2016, and was returned to office in a ballot in 2020.

But the country remains chronically unstable and swaths of it remain in the hands of rebel groups.

The 2020 presidential ballot was overshadowed by an attempt by a rebel alliance to advance on Bangui and by the very low turnout as voters in rebel-held areas were unable to cast their ballot.

Thousands have lost their lives in the conflict.

Nearly 650,000 people have fled their homes and another 575,000 have left the country, mainly heading to Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Chad, according to UN figures as of December 2018.

A long-planned CAR special court, tasked with trying crimes committed in the country since 2003, held its inaugural session in October 2018.

Source: AFP