By James Tasamba
KIGALI, Rwanda (AA) – A former senior rebel commander in the Central African Republic (CAR) accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity pleaded not guilty to the charges at the opening of his trial before the International Criminal Court in The Hague on Monday.
Mahamat Said Abdel Kani, a former alleged leader of the "Seleka" militia faction, oversaw a Seleka-run prison in the capital Bangui, where supporters of former president Francois Bozize were allegedly beaten and tortured, according to prosecution.
He allegedly committed the crimes in 2013 during conflict between the Seleka and anti-Balaka militias.
The Seleka faction seized power in 2013-2014 and ousted Bozize. The violence during the period reportedly led to the deaths of thousands of people and thousands of others were forcefully displaced.
The court presided over by Judge Miatta Maria Samba is expected to hear evidence from 43 prosecution witnesses during the months-long trial.
Said, 51, whose defense team disputes the evidence against him was surrendered to the ICC in January 2021 by Central African Republic authorities on account of an arrest warrant issued in January 2019.
Saidi’s compatriots, who were part of the opposing faction, anti-Balaka leaders, Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona and Alfred Yekatom are already facing trial at the ICC accused of similar charges.