ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Authorities in Ghana on Thursday arrested Charles Ble Goude, the former leader of an ultranationalist youth movement in Ivory Coast wanted in connection with violence linked to its disputed presidential election two years ago, officials said.
Ble Goude, who has been hiding for the last 20 months, has been implicated by Human Rights Watch in grave crimes as the West African nation was roiled by bloodshed over a months-long 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 dead.
His Netherlands-based lawyer, Nick Kaufman, confirmed the arrest and said he has been in contact with Ghanaian authorities seeking the legal grounds for the arrest. Kaufman said he has petitioned the ICC in The Hague to indicate whether Ble Goude was the subject of a warrant from that court. Moussa Toure Zeguen, a high-level former Gbagbo ally in exile in Ghana, said Ble Goude was arrested in the town of Tema.
Ble Goude was the leader of the Young Patriots, a pro-government youth organization seen by many as a militia, and minister of youth under Gbagbo. 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.
The Young Patriots played a decisive role in creating a climate of terror, erecting barricades and checkpoints where they attempted to identify "enemies of Ivory Coast" — meaning supporters of Ouattara. Because Ouattara is from northern Ivory Coast and one side of his family has roots in Burkina Faso, anyone having a northern name, as well as immigrants from neighboring nations, became targets and foreigners in general lived in fear.
An untold number of West African nationals were killed at Young Patriot-manned checkpoints, many by being "necklaced" with tires, which were then set on fire.
Until Gbagbo was forced from power in April 2011, Ble Goude held regular rallies where he used increasingly xenophobic rhetoric, which many believe incited his supporters to violence — claims that he has denied.
"Can you show me a single video, or a single audio, where I asked the youth of Ivory Coast to hurt foreigners?" Ble Goude told The Associated Press by phone from an undisclosed location last summer. "These are vulgar lies, that I deny. It's not true."
Human Rights Watch called the arrest "a welcome step" toward justice for many victims of the bloodshed.
"During the post-election crisis, Ble Goude made several declarations and speeches that appeared to incite violence, and his Young Patriots militia group was implicated in hundreds of killings on political and ethnic grounds," wrote Matt Wells, a West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch who reported on the postelection violence, in an e-mail to the AP.
Eds: Laura Burke in Accra, Ghana; Rukmini Callimachi in Bamako, Mali; and Jamey Keaten in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report.