During a significant pretrial hearing at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Tuesday, Maxime Jeoffroy Eli Mokom Gawaka, a former militia leader and government minister in the Central African Republic (CAR), refuted any allegations of participation in crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Prosecutors accuse Mokom of coordinating the operations of the so-called anti-Balaka militia, a mainly Christian group that fought against the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebel group.
Thousands of people were killed in the fighting and hundreds of thousands were displaced from 2013 to 2014.
Mokom denies involvement in crimes
“I absolutely deny having participated in any plans that involved crimes that have been charged,” Mokom told judges in the ICC courtroom in The Hague.
He said he returned to CAR from Congo in February 2014 and “he dedicated his return to the search for peace, rather than to engage in war.”
Mokom faces several charges, including murder, rape, extermination, deportation, torture, persecution, enforced disappearance and other inhumane acts that were allegedly carried out by the militias that he coordinated.
The hearing on Tuesday was to determine whether the available evidence is sufficient to proceed with a formal trial. Mokom was not required to enter a plea.
Prosecutors said Mokom was responsible for revenge attacks as one of the leaders of the anti-Balaka, which supported ousted President Francois Bozize.
Mokom gave “logistical support for military operations… including by providing funds, weapons, medication and ammunition,” they said.
Prosecutors added: “The attacks were widespread and systematic. The message to the Muslim population was clear: leave CAR or die.”
Prosecutor Mame Mandiaye Niang said, “He was the one who looked for ammunition, coordinated the deployment of anti-Balaka in the prefectures and oversaw the attacks.”
Attacks on Muslim civilians
Mokom is the fourth suspect from the long-running conflict in the country to appear before judges at the global court.
Violence has plagued CAR since 2013 when Seleka rebels forced Bozize from office. The anti-Balaka militia later fought back, also targeting civilians and sending most of the Muslim residents of the capital, Bangui, fleeing in fear.
More than 100,000 Muslim civilians had to flee Bangui across the border to neighboring Cameroon and Chad. Anti-Balaka attacks continued on Muslim civilians even after Seleka forces retreated from Bangui, until at least December 2014.