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Alleged CAR Rebel Goes on ICC Trial

Mahamat Said Abdel Kani enters the court room of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Monday, Sept. 26, 2022.

Mahamat Said, an alleged senior leader of a predominantly Muslim rebel group that ousted the president of Central African Republic in 2013 pleaded not guilty Monday to seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

An ICC spokesman said the opening of the trial of Mahamat Said marked the end of a long wait for justice for victims in the mineral-rich but impoverished Central African Republic.

The country's people “have been already waiting a long period of time. It is almost nine years now”a spokesman Fadi El Abdallah told the Associated Press.

Mahamat Said, 52, is accused of running a detention center in the capital, Bangui, called the Central Office for the Repression of Banditry, from April to August 2013 where he and dozens of Seleka rebels allegedly held prisoners perceived as supporters of ex-President Francois Bozize in inhumane conditions and subjected them to torture and brutal interrogations including whipping and beating them with truncheons and rifle butts.

The court's chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, told judges that his team would prove Said's guilt at a trial that is expected to last months.

“By the end of this trial, you will be convinced that in relation to all seven counts Mr. Said will be found guilty,” said Khan.

Khan adds, Said was not a passive spectator but an active participant in crimes, hunting down civilians and bringing them to the detention center.

“For 10 horrendous months, the Seleka ruled Bangui, " said the court's chief prosecutor and adds, " They ruled by diktat, by fear, by terror."

Khan showed a photo of a young man who was trussed up in a method of torture used at the camp. The image showed deep lacerations in the man's arms.

“Years later, it is all too apparent. Marked for life because the prosecution allege Mr. Said did not intervene, did not protect, did not lift a little finger or use any iota of his authority to alleviate their suffering. Rather, he deliberately exacerbated it in any way he could”.

Fighting in Bangui in 2013 between the Seleka rebels, who seized power from Bozize, and a mainly Christian militia called the anti-Balaka left thousands dead and displaced hundreds of thousands more.

The ICC has also detained two alleged commanders of the anti-Balaka, Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona, who are standing trial together.