Prosecutors seek war crimes trial at ICC for CAR militia leader

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Maxime Mokom attends International Criminal Court hearings in The Hague on August 22, 2023 [Piroschka van de Wouw/Pool via AP]

Maxime Mokom is accused of organising revenge attacks against Muslims as a militia leader in the Central African Republic.

War crimes prosecutors will argue before judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to put a former militia commander on trial over allegations of organising revenge attacks against Muslims in the Central African Republic (CAR).

In a three-day hearing at The Hague-based ICC starting on Tuesday, prosecutors will argue about whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute Maxime Mokom for his alleged role in directing murder, rape, pillaging and destruction of property as well as attacks against religious buildings, including mosques.

Mokom, 44, faces 20 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for atrocities committed by his self-proclaimed self-defence militias in 2013 and 2014.

In his opening statement, he told the court on Tuesday that he “dedicated my return to the search for peace, rather than engage in war” and denied involvement in any crimes.

CAR, a former French colony, was plunged into a bloody sectarian conflict after Seleka rebels, a coalition of armed groups mainly composed of Muslims, ousted President Francois Bozize in early 2013. Mokom’s militia, named “anti-Balaka” or “anti-machete”, was formed in reaction to the takeover of the capital, Bangui, by the Seleka and was comprised mainly of Christians and animists.

The warlord is accused of providing direct support to anti-Balaka military operations, including funding, weapons, medication and ammunition.

“Maxime Mokom is one of those who took up arms to get to power at any cost, while creating terror within the civilian population… and use them as human shields to achieve their aims,” added Marie-Edith Douzima-Lawson, a lawyer representing victims in the case.

The attacks conducted by the militia forced more than 100,000 Muslim civilians to flee Bangui across the border to neighbouring Cameroon and Chad.

Anti-Balaka attacks continued on Muslim civilians even after Seleka forces retreated from Bangui, until at least December 2014.

Many armed groups, rebels and assailants continue a guerrilla campaign of sporadic attacks against the Central African army, which is supported by mercenaries from the Russian private security company Wagner.

All sides have been accused of crimes and abuses against civilians by international NGOs and UN-mandated experts.

Chadian authorities last year handed Mokom over to the ICC, which issued a warrant for his arrest in 2018.

Two former anti-Balaka leaders, Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona and Alfred Yekatom, are already on trial at the ICC.

Prosecutors say Ngaissona, a former African football executive, was a senior leader of the anti-Balaka militias in 2013 and 2014. Yekatom, also known as Rambo, pleaded not guilty to charges relating to attacks on Muslim civilians.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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