THE HAGUE (Reuters) -A former militia leader from the Central African Republic on Tuesday told judges at the International Criminal Court that he played no part in any of the violent attacks on Muslim civilians in 2013 and 2014 that prosecutors want to charge him with.
Prosecutors have said that Maxime Jeoffroy Eli Mokom Gawaka, a former national coordinator of so-called anti-balaka militias, played a key role in a plan to violently target the Muslim civilian population of the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2013 and 2014.
Prosecutors say the anti-balaka killed hundreds of Muslim civilians and forced thousands to leave their homes.
“I absolutely deny having a part in any plan that involved the crimes that have been charged,” Mokom told the court.
CAR has been mired in violence since a coalition of mostly northern and predominantly Muslim rebels known as Seleka, or “Alliance” in the Sango language, seized power in March 2013. Their dominance gave rise to the opposing anti-balaka Christian militias.
The ICC has been investigating the violence in CAR since May 2014. There are already two ongoing trials before the court involving two other anti-balaka leaders and one Seleka leader.
Tuesday’s hearing was for prosecutors to prove there were substantial grounds to formally charge Mokom with 20 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity – including murder, rape, persecution and deportation – committed by militias that he supported and coordinated.
“He was the one who looked for ammunition, coordinated the deployment of anti-balaka in the prefectures and oversaw the attacks,” prosecutor Mame Mandiaye Niang said.
Mokom told the court he was a refugee stuck in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo for most of the period referenced in the charges. He added that the anti-balaka militias were demonized for political reasons and listed several alleged atrocities committed by rival Seleka groups.
Judges will issue a decision on the charges within 60 days of the end of the hearings. If they decide to confirm some or all of the charges against Mokom, the case will proceed to trial.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Giles Elgood and Conor Humphries)