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C.African rebel tortured opponents in hole under desk, ICC hears

By Danny KEMP
Central African Republic Landlocked CAR is one of the world's poorest nations and has seen a string of coups and wars since it gained independence from France in 1960.  By MARCO LONGARI (AFP)
OCT 12, 2021 LISTEN
Landlocked CAR is one of the world's poorest nations and has seen a string of coups and wars since it gained independence from France in 1960. By MARCO LONGARI (AFP)

A Central African Republic war crimes suspect kept opponents in a hole under his desk where they were tortured until they begged to be killed, prosecutors told the International Criminal Court on Tuesday.

Mahamat Said Abdel Kani, an alleged leader of the Seleka, a rebel coalition drawn largely from the CAR's Muslim minority, is accused of running two detention centres during the country's brutal 2013 civil war.

The ICC, based in The Hague, is deciding whether 14 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against Said, including torture and outrages of personal dignity, should move ahead to trial.

Prosecutors alleged that Said, 51, oversaw a "catalogue of misery" and personally mistreated opponents accused of supporting former leader Francois Bozize, whom the Seleka had driven out of power.

"People were put in just appalling conditions with no regard for their humanity," said chief prosecutor Karim Khan, making his first appearance before the ICC since taking over the role in June.

The court saw a picture of a cell in the ground dubbed "the hole", which was covered with wooden planks and a desk, where prisoners at one centre faced especially harsh treatment.

"Standing above them was Mr Said -- the area above was his office," Khan said.

"Literally standing on their heads, trampling on their dignity, stamping on their rights, he cannot plead ignorance. The smell was awful, the proximity could not have been closer."

'So excruciating'

Prisoners were kept with just a bucket for a toilet, tied in stress positions, handcuffed together for weeks, subjected to fake drownings, and had their heads covered with pepper-filled hoods, the court heard.

Central African Republic.  By  (AFP) Central African Republic. By (AFP)

Prosecutors also showed a photo of the scars left on a witness after he was kept for long periods with his hands and legs tied behind his back, the legs touching the elbows.

"The pain was so excruciating he asked his tormentors to put him out of his misery and kill him," Khan said.

While there was no evidence that Said was linked to any of the killings or rapes that occurred during the CAR's civil war, the proof of his involvement in detaining opponents was clear, Khan said.

"This is as straightfoward a case as is likely to come before this court," the prosecutor added.

"The evidence overwhelmingly shows Mr Said was in the room where it happened. He encouraged it, he facilitated it, but he also took part in the beatings and mistreatment."

Central African authorities handed Said over to the ICC in January over his alleged role in the sectarian violence that embroiled the country eight years ago.

The Seleka's ousting of Bozize sparked a wave of bloody violence with mainly Christian vigilante groups known as anti-Balaka.

Two anti-Balaka suspects -- former CAR sports minister Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona and MP Alfred Yekatom, dubbed Rambo -- are currently also on trial at the ICC.

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