The commander of the Séléka armed group, Mahamat Said Abdel Kani, is accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
A war crimes suspect in the Central African Republic made his first appearance at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Friday after being handed over to The Hague tribunal.
Mahamat Said Abdel Kani, 50, a suspected leader of the Seleka, an armed group largely from the Muslim minority, was handed over to the ICC by the Central African authorities on Sunday.
Said faces charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including torture, persecution, cruel treatment and enforced disappearances.
The Central African Republic has been plunged into violence since the Seleka, or “alliance” in the Sango language, took power in March 2013.
Their brutal rule gave birth to the opposing Christian “anti-balaka” militias, several of which former leaders are also facing charges at the ICC.
Defense lawyer Jean Pierre Madoukou told judges during his client’s first appearance that Said intended to prove his innocence in court.
“I can clearly say that [the] the truth will come out in favor of Mr. Said on the basis of everything we have at our disposal, ”Madoukou said.
Said, speaking via video conference from the ICC detention center due to COVID-19 restrictions, did not comment on the charges against him.
“I will be silent for now and I will speak when the time comes,” the presiding judge said.
“I am not yet very well informed of my rights. I am aware that as a suspect, I am presumed innocent, ”he added.
Two other suspects of violence in the Central African Republic are currently on trial at the ICC.
ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda on Monday welcomed Said’s arrest, but said she remained very concerned about the country’s volatile situation.
The arrest comes amid fighting between the Central African army – supported by the United Nations and Russian and Rwandan troops – and fighters from armed groups who have now formed an alliance to capture the capital and ” cancel a vote of December 27 in which President Faustin-Archange Touadera was declared the winner.
The Central African Republic announced a 15-day emergency last week as armed groups attempted to blockade the capital Bangui in an attempt to topple Touadera.