Ivory Coast authorities on Saturday arrested Amade Oueremi, a militia leader accused of participating in one of the worst massacres committed during the nation’s post-election violence in 2011, a military official and witness said.
About 3,000 people were killed in the brief armed conflict that broke out after then-Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo refused to acknowledge defeat at the hands of his rival, Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, in a run-off poll in late 2010.
Oueremi’s militia backed Ouattara during the fighting, but rights groups say his fighters participated in the executions of hundreds of suspected Gbagbo supporters in the western town of Duekoue in March 2011.
“We have arrested him. He is now in custody. We’ll bring him to Abidjan where he will answer for his acts,” said an army officer involved in Oueremi’s arrest, asking not to be named.
He declined to say if the arrest was linked to the Duekoue killings.
A civilian witness told reporters he had seen the militia chief at an army base in Duekoue where he was being held on Saturday, adding that soldiers had told him Oueremi had surrendered.
Gbagbo is currently awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity, while former Ivorian first lady Simone Gbagbo is being sought by the court on similar charges.
More than 100 of the former president’s supporters were arrested after the violence and remain in detention in Ivory Coast.
The conflict ended after Gbagbo was arrested in April 2011, allowing Ouattara to consolidate power as president. However, none of Ouattara’s own UN and French-backed fighters have yet been arrested, despite evidence that they too committed atrocities.
Oueremi’s continued liberty in spite of the accusations against him had been held up by human rights groups as an example of the Ivorian government’s failure to deliver impartial justice.
“Will Ivorian justice and the ICC finally balance their actions?” said Rinaldo Depagne, Ivory Coast researcher for the International Crisis Group.
“This is proof that, if they want, the state has the ability to make its authority respected and they should do it more,” he said.