A leading African soccer official was arrested Wednesday in France on charges of war crimes committed in the Central African Republic.
Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) said Patrice Edouard Ngaissona was the most senior leader and “national general coordinator” of the anti-Balaka militia.
The ICC said that as the leader of the mostly Christian militia, Ngaissona was suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder, extermination, deportation, persecution, torture, attacking civilians and recruiting child soldiers.
The anti-Balaka militia was formed in 2013 to counter the Muslim Seleka rebels who seized control of the CAR capital, Bangui and ousted President Francois Bozize. The resulting civil war has killed thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands more.
Ngaissona is head of his country’s national soccer federation. In February, he was elected to the executive committee of the Confederation of African Football, the governing body for soccer on the continent, prompting many to think he was untouchable. But Lewis Mudge, senior researcher in the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch, said the arrest proved “even high-level figures implicated in grave crimes can be arrested to face justice.”
Amnesty International, which named Ngaissona and 19 others as possible war crimes suspects in 2014, called the arrest a “major step forward in the fight against impunity in the Central African Republic.”
Another anti-Balaka leader, Alfred Yekatom, was sent to the ICC at The Hague last month.
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has said the court is investigating all sides of the conflict, but so far, no Seleka rebels have been publicly charged.