Ble Goude charged with war crimes in Ivory Coast

Authorities in Ivory Coast have charged former youth leader Charles Ble Goude with war crimes over his alleged role in violence linked to the country's disputed presidential election two years ago, state television reported Monday.

Ble Goude, who had been hiding for the last 20 months before he was arrested in Ghana last week and extradited to Ivory Coast, is suspected of crimes linked to a bloody, five-month election dispute between allies of former President Laurent Gbagbo and the current President Alassane Ouattara. Ble Goude, 40, has denied playing any role in the violence that left at least 3,000 people dead.

State-run RTI television said Ble Goude, a former youth minister under Gbagbo, also faces charges of war crimes, murder and theft of public funds. Gbagbo, who ruled Ivory Coast for a decade, is awaiting trial for crimes against humanity in The Hague. His effort to cling to power after the elections in late 2010 set the stage for the violence between rival camps.

Ble Goude was also a leader of the Young Patriots, a pro-government youth organization viewed by many as a militia. It played a decisive role in creating a climate of terror, erecting barricades and checkpoints where members attempted to identify "enemies of Ivory Coast" - meaning supporters of Ouattara. Human Rights Watch has said the group killed hundreds of northern Ivorians and West African immigrants during the conflict

Nick Kaufman, Ble Goude's lawyer, said he believed his transfer from Ghana was not conducted properly.

Following Ble Goude's arrest, Human Rights Watch issued a statement saying it hoped Ghana would ensure "fair and credible justice" for Ble Goude. Kaufman credited the human rights group for good intentions, but said Ble Goude "was already in the car on his way to Abidjan" - Ivory Coast's commercial capital - when the statement was released.

The lawyer insisted Ble Goude has nothing to hide, but wouldn't get a fair trial in Ivory Coast. It remains unclear whether Ble Goude might be sought at the International Criminal Court; Kaufman said he received an e-mail from the prosecutor at The Hague on Friday "refusing to say" if prosecutors would seek his "surrender" to The Hague.

"I'm firmly against him being tried ... but if he's going to be put on trial, it should be in The Hague and certainly not in Ivory Coast," Kaufman said, warning that Ble Goude would face a "one-side form of victor's justice" under the Ouattara government.

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Jamey Keaten in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.

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