Portuguese-Belgian citizen arrested in CAR charged with 6 crimes including terrorism

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The Portuguese-Belgian citizen arrested last month in the Central African Republic (CAR) has been formally charged with terrorism and attacking state security, the Central African Public Prosecutor’s Office announced.

The man, a consultant for the US non-governmental organization (NGO) FHI360, has been charged with six crimes, including attacking the internal and external security of the state, as well as terrorism, according to the Central African courts, quoted today by the Associated Press (AP) news agency.

If found guilty, he faces a life sentence of forced labor.

Among the humanitarian worker’s alleged crimes, the prosecutor’s office listed “the existence of several contracts with the leaders of armed groups, the provision of strategic information on the different positions of the Central African Armed Forces (FACA), money and weapons, being identified as an alleged employee of an American non-governmental organization that is doing research on Fulani herdsmen”.

According to the indictment, the man allegedly also “advocated war crimes and crimes against humanity, the propaganda of armed groups while encouraging them to create an international terrorist branch such as the Islamic State,” the statement added.

The detainee has Belgian and Portuguese passports.

Family Health International 360 (FHI360), a public health NGO that manages projects related to family planning and reproductive health, confirmed that one of its workers is being held in the Central African Republic.

The man was arrested last month in Zemio, a town in the southeast of the Central African Republic that has been ravaged by fighting between local ethnic militias and anti-government rebels for more than a decade.

“We are working to secure the immediate release of our consultant,” FHI360 spokeswoman Jennifer Garcia told the Associated Press immediately after his arrest.

The AP has so far been unable to contact the man and none of his lawyers have commented on the charges known on Friday.

Mohamed Ag Ayoya, deputy special representative of the UN secretary-general in charge of humanitarian action, told AP that he was following the situation.

“We learned about the news and the prosecutor’s press release through the press,” said Ayoya, adding: “We have no comment to make. But what I can say at this level is that it is his embassy in Bangui that is managing the process.”

On May 31, the Portuguese government told Lusa that it was “following the case in person”, including providing food for the Portuguese-Belgian.

“The number two of the [Portuguese] Embassy in Kinshasa has already visited him, as has the honorary consul [of Portugal] in the Central African Republic,” a source from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) told Lusa.

The Central African authorities have warned foreign NGO workers against taking part in activities that could endanger national security, under penalty of prosecution.

Following this arrest, the armed forces were sent to Zemio, after more than six years’ absence from the town.

The Central African Republic has been in conflict since 2013, when predominantly Muslim rebels seized power and forced then-president François Bozizé from office. Largely Christian militias fought back.

A 2019 peace agreement helped slow down the fighting, but six of the 14 armed groups that signed the agreement later abandoned it.

The CAR army, one of the poorest on the African continent, is supported by mercenaries from the Russian Wagner group or its successor, the Africa Corps.

A UN peacekeeping mission, including Portuguese soldiers, and Rwandan troops are currently deployed in the Central African Republic to try to quell the violence and protect civilians.

Moti Shabi
Moti Shabi
Moti Shabi

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