ABIDJAN, IVORY COAST - Ivory Coast has charged 20 people with crimes committed during a brief civil war in 2010-11 including, for the first time, fighters who backed President Alassane Ouattara, a human rights official said.
An estimated 3,000 people were killed in fighting that broke out after the West African country's former president, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to cede defeat in an election in late 2010. Up to now, only Gbagbo's supporters have been charged.
"In total, it's about 20 people from the FRCI [armed forces] who were indicted," said Florent Geel, Africa director for the International Federation for Human Rights. "This shows that Ouattara is fulfilling his promise that nobody will be spared."
Geel said late Tuesday that two former rebel leaders who backed Ouattara during the conflict, Losseni Fofana and Cherif Ousmane, were among those indicted, without giving details on the charges.
Ousmane was a leader in a rebellion against Gbagbo that began in 2002 when rebels tried to storm the capital and then seized the northern half of the country.
A government spokesman and a justice ministry spokesman on Wednesday said they could not confirm the charges. A military source familiar with the proceedings said army members had not yet received formal notification of charges.
Under the legal system, charges do not automatically lead to a trial, and prosecutors continue to gather evidence.
The decision to charge commanders from both sides of the conflict "represents meaningful progress on the government's promise to deliver impartial justice," said Param-Preet Singh, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch.
Since taking power in 2011, Ouattara has focused on rebuilding Ivory Coast's economy, and the world's top cocoa producer now has one of the fastest growth rates in Africa.
The decision to charge former allies might be viewed as a sign of Ouattara's confidence ahead of elections later this year. He is widely expected to win since Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front, the only opposition party, is deeply divided.
Gbagbo is accused of crimes against humanity and is awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. At least 80 Gbagbo allies have been charged for crimes during the conflict and his wife, Simone, has been jailed.