Exiled former Central African Republic president Francois Bozize, who now leads a rebel coalition, has been sentenced to forced labour for life for conspiracy, rebellion and murder in the chronically unstable nation.
Bozize, who seized power in the CAR in 2003 but was toppled a decade later, was sentenced in absentia on Thursday, according to a judgement sent to AFP by the ministry.
Two of Bozize's sons and 20 other co-accused, who included rebel leaders, were also handed the same sentence in absentia.
They were also convicted of compromising internal security and "murders", according to the judgement by an appeals court in the capital Bangui.
The judgement gave no details on the time period concerned or the crimes.
Bozize, 76, who was in exile in Chad until March when he moved to Guinea Bissau, leads an alliance of rebel groups called the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), formed in December 2020 in a bid to overthrow Bozize's successor, Faustin Archange Touadera.
Among those sentenced in Bangui was Ali Darassa, the military leader of the main militia group within the CPC alliance.
Civil war has plagued the CAR, one of the world's poorest countries, since a Muslim-dominated armed coalition called the Seleka ousted Bozize in 2013.
Bozize set up armed militias known as the anti-Balakas, who were mainly Christian, to try to regain power.
The conflict lost intensity from 2018, but the country still suffers bouts of violence and remains deeply poor.
Thousands of civilians were killed and both sides have been accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the United Nations.
France, the former colonial power, intervened militarily in the chronically unstable country in 2013 to help stem the civil war flaring along sectarian lines.
The intervention and deployment of UN peacekeepers paved the way for elections in 2016 which Touadera won.
Map locating Central African Republic's capital Bangui. By (AFP)
Two years later, Touadera brought in fighters from Russia's Wagner mercenary group to help train his armed forces, and in 2020 brought in more Russian operatives as rebel groups advanced on the capital.
France last December pulled out its last troops from the CAR as hostility mounted on social media.
In Africa, Wagner has been accused by rights groups and other watchdogs of carrying out atrocities and pillaging mineral wealth in exchange for supporting fragile regimes.
Bozize, a former general, defied UN sanctions for his presumed role in the crisis in the CAR and initially fled to Uganda.
He slipped home in 2020 in a bid to contest presidential elections and then donned the mantle of rebel leader.
He went to Chad at the end of 2021 after government troops recovered swathes of territory with the help of the Russian paramilitaries.
But Bozize's presence in Chad while his CPC waged a guerilla war in northern CAR strained bilateral ties. The CAR accused Chad of allowing the rebels to operate from its soil.
He left Chad for Guinea-Bissau in March.