ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — A militia leader accused of grave crimes during Ivory Coast's 2010-11 postelection violence was taken into custody Saturday not far from the national park where his forces had been illegally occupying in the country's volatile western region, officials said.
Amade Oueremi, a native of Burkina Faso, fought alongside forces backing President Alassane Ouattara in the conflict, which erupted after former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to leave office despite losing the November 2010 election. At least 3,000 people died in five months of fighting, according to the United Nations.
Denis Badouon, vice mayor in the western town of Duekoue, said Oueremi was taken into custody Saturday morning in a village close to Mount Peko National Park, where the militia leader had been based since 1986, according to a U.N. report. He said multiple military sources had confirmed Oueremi's detention.
"I can confirm that he was arrested in the village of Bagohouo, not far from Mount Peko," Badououn said.
A military commander, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the operation, said Oueremi had turned himself in after the military bolstered its presence in the region – apparently in preparation for an operation to remove him from the national park.
It was not immediately clear whether Oueremi had been charged with a crime. In its 2011 report on the postelection conflict, Human Rights Watch said Oueremi was "among the main perpetrators" of the notorious March 2011 massacre in Duekoue that killed hundreds of Gbagbo supporters.
A May 2011 U.N. report says Oueremi began supporting anti-Gbagbo rebels as early as 2000, and that his men have been hording weapons and ammunition since then. The U.N. report notes that Oueremi is widely believed to possess "mystical powers." In photos taken during the crisis, his shirts are pulled tightly over a collection of charms and pendants seen bulging underneath, believed to give him protection from enemy fire.
Ouattara has tried to bridge lingering divisions in the two years since he assumed office, but this effort has been undermined by the lack of investigations of his own military supporters who are accused of committing grave human rights abuses during the conflict. Oueremi had become a symbol of this alleged impunity, traveling around the west in a conspicuous motorcade of dozens of cars and motorcycles even as officials openly acknowledged he was illegally occupying protected land.
Matt Wells, West Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch, called for an investigation into Oueremi's alleged crimes.
"Oueremi's capture should swiftly lead to a credible investigation and, evidence permitting, prosecution for his alleged role in some of the horrific crimes committed in Duekoue during the postelection crisis," Wells said. "By doing so, the Ivorian authorities would take a strong first step toward providing the impartial justice they have long promised, but yet to deliver on."