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ICC reviewing suit against ex-president, official says

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THE HAGUE, 26 Apr 2006 (IRIN) - The International Criminal Court (ICC) is reviewing an application filed by the government of the Central African Republic (CAR) against former President Ange-Felix Patasse and four of his aides, to decide whether or not the prosecutor's office would order an inquiry into their alleged crimes, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has said.

"There was a case pending before the [CAR] national highest court of appeal [court de cassation], and the final decision came a few weeks ago; now we are busy with the admissibility analysis," Moreno-Ocampo said during a media briefing on Tuesday in The Hague, the ICC headquarters.

The CAR Court of Appeal rendered its verdict on 13 April, ruling that national courts were unable to handle the case and confirming a December 2004 court ruling recommending its transfer to the ICC.

An international warrant of arrest issued soon after Francois Bozize overthrew Patasse in March 2003, accused the former president of murders, rape, looting and other human rights violations. Patasse, who is now in exile in Togo, allegedly committed these crimes between October 2002 and March 2003. Jean Pierre Bemba, then the leader of a Democratic Republic of the Congo-based rebel group that came to Patasse's rescue in that period is also on the list of the accused. Bemba is now one of the four vice-presidents in the DRC and is a candidate for the forthcoming presidential elections in that country.

"Bemba cannot be judged by our national courts; only the ICC with its reputation and resources can do that," David Gamou, a spokesman of the CAR Ministry of Justice said from Bangui, the CAR capital.

He said one of the other men accused alongside Patasse, who worked as Patasse's driver and who is believed to have been killed during Bozize's 15 March 2003 coup, was still on the list "since no death certificate has yet been delivered to confirm the death".

Abdoulaye Miskine, a militiaman who became a commander of Patasse's special anti-highwaymen unit; and a retired gendarme, Paul Barril of France, who was Patasse's anti-terror adviser, are also accused of similar crimes.

Patasse's spokesman, Prosper Ndouba, said on Tuesday from Paris: "Patasse is ready to appear before the ICC if evidence of any wrongdoing or crime within the framework of his mandate are found and put forward."

Massive human rights violations - such as rape, looting, mass killings and arson - were reported during Bozize's six-month rebellion that culminated in the 15 March 2003 coup. The fighting pitted Patasse's troops and their supporters from the DRC against rebels loyal to Bozize, who were supported by Chadian mercenaries. Since then, tens of thousands of refugees have been living in camps in southern Chad, where they were joined by thousands of other civilians since June 2005 as a result of new attacks by armed groups in northwestern CAR.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring DRC, the first ICC suspect was arrested in March and transferred to The Hague, where the case is still at the procedural stage.

"Thomas Lubanga was the first, but not the last," Moreno-Ocampo said. "We are investigating a second case in Ituri [northeastern DRC] and a third is under evaluation."

He added that the ICC was awaiting the arrest of five leaders of the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), who are reported to be hiding in northeastern DRC, from where they continue to attack northern Uganda and southern Sudan.

"We believe that if [LRA commander-in-chief Joseph] Kony and [LRA deputy-commander-in chief Vincent] Otti were arrested, criminality would decrease in southern Sudan and northern Uganda," he said.

Regarding the arrest on 14 April in Germany of Ignace Murwanashyaka, the leader of the Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR), a Rwandan rebel group based in eastern DRC, Moreno-Ocampo said he needed more information about the FDLR and Murwanashyaka and about his responsibilities in the alleged FDLR crimes before he could take any further decision.


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