Prosecutors push for war crimes trial for Central African Republic militia leader

Prosecutors push for war crimes trial for Central African Republic militia leader

Maxime Mokom Gawaka faces multiple war crimes, crimes against humanity charges

By James Tasamba

KIGALI, Rwanda (AA) - Prosecutors sought to convince judges Tuesday at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to put a former militia leader on trial for organizing revenge attacks against Muslim civilians in the Central African Republic.

Maxime Mokom Gawaka, 44, faces multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity charges that were allegedly committed by his militias calling themselves “Anti-Balaka” in 2013 and 2014.

During a pre-trial hearing at the Hague-based ICC, judges heard that with Mokom's support, Anti-Balaka militia attacks virtually drove the Muslim population out of the capital, Bangui, and Bossangoa town, as hundreds of thousands were internally displaced and forced to endure inadequate food, shelter and sanitation.

“Anti-Balaka militia senior leader Mokom intentionally and knowingly contributed to 2013 attacks in the Central African Republic violently targeting Muslim civilians,” Deputy Prosecutor Mame Mandiaye Niang told the court.

More than 100,000 Muslims were reportedly forced out of Bangui, walking for weeks across the border to neighboring Chad and Cameroon.

The Central African country has been embroiled in conflict since 2013 when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted then-President Francois Bozize, prompting reprisals from mostly Christian militias.

The Anti-Balaka militia, or anti-machete, was formed after the Seleka, a coalition of armed groups opposed to Bozize's rule, overran Bangui.

The hearing will run until Thursday to allow the prosecution to prove the merits of the case.

After listening to the prosecution, the defense and the legal representatives of the victims, the court, presided over by Judge Rosario Salvatore Aitala, will decide if Mokom should stand trial.

Mokom was a senior leader of the Anti-Balaka and is said to have acted as the de facto coordinator responsible for the group’s military operations aimed to reinstate Bozize.

He is accused of bearing individual criminal responsibility for directing attacks against the civilian population, murder, rape, pillaging, directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion including mosques, destruction of property and severe deprivation of personal liberty, among other charges.

Mokom surrendered to the ICC in March 2022, following an arrest warrant issued in 2018.

Two former Anti-Balaka leaders, Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona and Alfred Yekatom, are already facing trial at the court.

Seleka commander Mahamat Said Abdel Kani last year denied war crimes and crimes against humanity charges before the court.

The presidential election in December 2020 was the first in the Central African Republic following the signing of a peace agreement in February 2019 between the government and 14 armed groups.

But violence orchestrated by armed groups continues with regular attacks reported against government forces supported by mercenaries from the Russian private security group Wagner.

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