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I. Coast's firebrand ex-youth leader transferred to ICC

A file picture dated June 25, 2012 shows former Ivorian youth leader Charles Ble Goude speaking to reporters at an undisclosed location close to the Togo-Benin border
A file picture dated June 25, 2012 shows former Ivorian youth leader Charles Ble Goude speaking to reporters at an undisclosed location close to the Togo-Benin border

Charles Ble Goude, the former right-hand man of Ivorian ex-president Laurent Gbagbo, is headed to The Hague to be tried for crimes against humanity, the government said Saturday.

The 42-year-old former youth leader faces four counts of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court including murder and rape allegedly committed during post-electoral violence in the west African country in 2010-11.

Ble Goude left Abidjan aboard a plane chartered by the ICC Saturday morning, a government spokeswoman said, and is expected to arrive in The Netherlands in the late afternoon.

The former leader of the "Young Patriots", once known as Gbagbo's "Street General", will join his former boss in ICC detention.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda hailed the transfer, saying in a statement Saturday: “We are a step closer in helping to unveil the full truth in one of (Ivory Coast's) worst episodes of mass violence in recent history."

The crisis in the country once seen as a beacon of stability in the region started with Gbagbo's refusal to concede defeat in November 2010 elections, sparking armed clashes that killed more than 3,000 people.

His election rival Alassane Ouattara, now the president of the world's top cocoa producer, eventually ousted him thanks to international military backing.

Gbagbo, who was transferred to The Netherlands in late 2011, also faces four counts of crimes against humanity but the court has yet to confirm the charges, pending further investigation.

Ble Goude galvanised support for Gbagbo during the crisis with fiery speeches urging mass mobilisation against what he called pro-Ouattara "rebels" and their foreign backers, former colonial power France and the United Nations.

Ble Goude "allegedly bears individual criminal responsibility, as indirect co-perpetrator, for four counts of crimes against humanity, namely murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, persecution, and other inhuman acts," the ICC said Saturday.

The ICC issued a warrant for his arrest in December 2011 but did not make it public until late last year, and the Ivorian cabinet agreed to the transfer on Thursday.

The former youth leader for Gbagbo was arrested in Ghana in January 2013 after more than a year and a half on the run and extradited to Ivory Coast.

'Not afraid'

The Ivorian authorities were initially hesitant to surrender Ble Goude, citing reasons of "national sovereignty" and saying the country's justice system had sufficiently recovered from the crisis to be capable of trying him.

They used the same arguments in declining to transfer Gbagbo's wife Simone to The Hague.

The leader of Gbagbo's Front Populaire Ivoirien party, Pascal Affi N'Guessan, regretted the decision to transfer Ble Goude, arguing that it would not ease tensions.

"This does not show that the country is advancing on the path of normalisation, of some kind of way out of conflict," he said.

Rights groups and the United Nations have alleged that forces backing both Gbagbo and Ouattara committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the crisis and say both sides should face justice.

The ICC's Bensouda said Saturday: "This is not the end of our work in (Ivory Coast) ... we will collect more evidence, and as warranted, bring further cases before the ICC judges without fear or favour, and irrespective of sides or political affiliation of the perpetrators."

Ble Goude's lawyer on Saturday said Ivorian investigators had presented little evidence against his client.

"We are respectful of the law, but we are not afraid," he told AFP.

Ble Goude himself told AFP in a 2012 interview that he did not fear going to the ICC.

"I am not an advocate of weapons, I never maintained a single militia. If the ICC wants to invite me for having organised protest marches, I have no problem appearing before the ICC," he said.

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