Central African Republic war crimes trial postponed after lawyer no-show

BANGUI (Reuters) - The inaugural trial of a court established to prosecute war crimes in Central African Republic's drawn-out conflict was postponed on its first day on Tuesday when lawyers for defendants boycotted proceedings.

The trial is related to the massacre of 46 civilians in the northern villages of Koundjili and Lemouna in May 2019, killings prosecutors say were carried out by the 3R rebel group. Three members of the group have been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The defendants' lawyers failed to show on Tuesday, the exact reason for which was unclear. Joseph Bindoumi, president of the Central African League for Human Rights, told Reuters it was over a dispute about the treatment of the defenders.

The trial will resume on April 25.

The case is being heard in the Special Criminal Court, which was set up in 2015 to try crimes committed in wartime. It is seen as a milestone for Central African Republic where a decade-long conflict between government forces and rebels has forced more than one million people to flee.

Mass atrocities have led to interventions from United Nations peacekeepers and troops from Russia, France and Rwanda. But rights groups say crimes against civilians are common, often undocumented, and carried out with impunity.

The first trial signals "a better tomorrow for the victims" who can finally see the accused tried, the court's spokesman Gervais Opportun Bodagay told Reuters.

Separately, at least three Central Africa Republic militia leaders are on trial at the International Criminal Court at the Hague for crimes allegedly committed in the country.

Central African Republic, rich in gold and diamonds, has been rocked by violence since 2013 when mainly Muslim Selaka rebels ousted then president Francois Bozize, prompting reprisals from mostly Christian militias.

(Reporting by Serge Léger and Judicaël Yongo; Writing by Edward McAllister, Editing by William Maclean)

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