Laurent Gbagbo, the former Ivorian president who led his country to the brink of civil war, shuffled off a chartered plane and into the custody of the International Criminal Court at The Hague yesterday in a groundbreaking extradition that could spell an end to a decade of bloodshed and rebellion in Ivory Coast.
Amid howls of protest by some Gbagbo supporters, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC's chief prosecutor, promised that the arrest was "just the beginning" and more suspects would stand trial for crimes committed during inter-ethnic violence that flared late last year following Ivory Coast's presidential election.
Diplomats, human rights groups and analysts say Mr Ocampo's ability to honour that commitment, and the willingness of the Ivorian authorities to try people on both sides of the political divide, are essential if the West Africa nation is to put its troubles behind it.
Mr Gbagbo, a skilled orator more at home in a Hawaiian shirt than a suit and tie, faces four counts of crimes against humanity for his role in violence that erupted when he refused to concede the presidency, despite being convincingly beaten at the polls.
Instead, he unleashed government security forces and a youth militia known as the Young Patriots against supporters of his rival, President-elect Alassane Ouattara. Hundreds of victims were doused in petrol and burnt alive. In one instance, pro-Gbagbo commanders ordered their tanks to fire on unarmed women.
These massacres were met with grisly reprisals as rebel forces swept through the country and into the largest city, Abidjan, where Mr Gbagbo made his last stand in April.
Yesterday Mr Ocampo promised that "Ivorian victims will see justice for massive crimes" and that "there is more to come" from the ICC, which is understood to be investigating up to five other figures complicit in the violence. With tensions simmering, diplomats, human rights groups and analysts say it is crucial that pro-Ouattara commanders who meted out collective punishment to real and perceived Gbagbo supporters – raping women, executing civilians too weak to flee and burning villages to the ground – also face justice.
"If the cycle of violence is to stop, there has to be justice that is even-handed and justice for the victims on both sides," said Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch.
In the meantime, Gbagbo lieutenants are seething at yet another humiliation by the international community, days before the country goes to the polls to elect a new parliament. "What we are seeing today is the triumph of corruption, dirty dealing and shady connections to the detriment of the state," Mr Gbagbo's spokesman, Justin Kone Katina, said from exile in Ghana. He called Mr Ocampo a "scheming puppet... manipulated by interests that are far removed from any sense of justice".
Three pro-Gbagbo parties announced that they were pulling out of the 11 December vote, claiming his extradition to The Hague had shattered hopes for national reconciliation. Mr Gbgabo's FPI party had already promised to boycott the election.
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