, THE HAGUE, Nov 30 – Laurent Gbagbo, Ivory Coast’s former leader, was flown into the Netherlands Wednesday to be handed over to the International Criminal Court for trial over post-election violence that cost 3,000 lives.
A plane carrying the former president landed at Rotterdam airport a little before 4:00 am (0300 GMT), ANP reported.
From there, Gbagbo was to be taken to the ICC detention facilities in The Hague, 20 kilometres (12 miles) away.
Gbagbo, 66, was only informed of his transfer on Tuesday when he was served an international arrest warrant from the ICC, Jean Gbougnon, one of his lawyers in Ivory Coast, told AFP.
He will be the first former head of state to be surrendered to the ICC.
Ivory Coast’s new rulers had been pressing for weeks to have Gbagbo transferred to The Hague and the move comes less than two weeks before the December 11 legislative elections in Ivory Coast.
ICC spokesman Fadi el-Abdallah told AFP on Tuesday that the court could not comment on the matter until judges made their decision public.
Gbagbo was flown out of the country in a plane chartered by the Ivorian authorities.
For months, since his arrest in Abidjan on April 11, he had been held in Korhogo, in the north of the country, as Ivorian investigators built a case against him.
At home, Gbagbo faced charges for “economic crimes” allegedly committed during the political crisis and conflict triggered by his refusal to hand over power, which sparked the deadly post-election conflict.
But the ICC had launched its own investigation.
Last month, its judges allowed prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo to probe alleged post-election war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by forces loyal to Gbagbo — but also those loyal to new Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara.
And Human Rights Watch, while welcoming news of Gbagbo’s transfer to the ICC, made it clear that the forces loyal to Ouattara also had to answer for alleged atrocities committed during the conflict.
“The ICC is playing its part to show that even those at the highest levels of power cannot escape justice when implicated in grave crimes,” said Elise Keppler, HRW’s senior international justice counsel in a statement.
But the ICC should also make sure it investigated both sides as “the many victims of abuse meted out by the forces loyal to President Ouattara also deserve to see justice done.”
In Ivory Coast the leaders of three small pro-Gbagbo parties announced they were pulling out of the December vote in protest at the transfer, which they argued would hamper national reconciliation.
In Paris, Lucie Bourthoumieux, another lawyer for Gbagbo said: “This decision by the International Criminal Court is illegal and goes against the interests of the country and of national reconciliation.”
And a former Gbagbo aide, Bernard Oudin, also denounced the move as politically motivated in comments to French television.
But the United States said Tuesday the ex-leader had to face the consequences of his refusal to concede defeat in the 2010 presidential election.
“He now needs to be held accountable for any human rights abuses that he may have carried out,” State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington.