ABIDJAN/AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Ivory Coast transferred Charles Ble Goude, a youth leader and close ally of ex-president Laurent Gbagbo, to the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Saturday to face charges of crimes against humanity linked to a 2011 post-election civil war.
The ICC, based in The Hague, Netherlands, announced last October it had issued an arrest warrant for Ble Goude, who headed the Young Patriots street militia during Gbagbo's presidency. Ble Goude was arrested in Ghana in January 2013.
The government of Ivory Coast's current president, Alassane Ouattara, said on Thursday it had decided to hand Ble Goude over to the court.
"The Ivorian government informs the national and international communities that Mr Charles Ble Goude was today transferred to The Hague," said a statement from government spokesman Bruno Kone read on state television.
Around 3,000 people died in the conflict that erupted after Gbagbo refused to accept his defeat to Ouattara in a presidential runoff election in late 2010.
Gbagbo, captured at the end of the fighting in April 2011 by French and U.N.-backed fighters supporting Ouattara, has been in the ICC's custody since November 2011 and stands accused of responsibility for rapes, murders, persecution and inhuman acts.
Known as "The Street General" for his fiery speeches and ability to draw thousands of his supporters onto the streets, 41-year-old Ble Goude had previously asked to be tried by an Ivorian court and not to be sent to The Hague.
UNVEILING "FULL TRUTH"
Fatou Bensouda, the ICC's chief prosecutor, welcomed the news of Ble Goude's transfer and promised further investigations into the 2010/11 violence, which she said could result in prosecutions of either side in the conflict.
"We are a step closer in helping to unveil the full truth in one of Côte d'Ivoire's worst episodes of mass violence," she said. "Those who use violence and commit mass crimes against civilians in pursuit of power must be held accountable."
Lawyers for Gbagbo and Ble Goude say Ouattara is using the court as a political tool for getting rid of his political enemies when convenient. They have criticised prosecutors for bringing cases only against Gbagbo and his allies.
Ble Goude appeared before a court in Ivory Coast's commercial capital Abidjan on Friday, where he was informed of the government's decision to send him to the ICC.
However, his lawyer Nick Kaufman said he had been denied his right to challenge the arrest warrant and extradition process.
"The government has decided what should happen to Ble Goude and not the courts. Here you have a government that's taking judicial decisions. That's wrong," Kaufman told Reuters.
The ICC also has an arrest warrant out for Gbagbo's wife Simone for charges of crimes against humanity. However, Ouattara's government said last September it planned to try the former first lady, currently under house arrest in Ivory Coast, in a domestic court.
(Reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly and Thomas Escritt; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Gareth Jones)