“The objective of their strategy was to reclaim power. The means, the consequences — unfortunately that’s why we’re here,” he said, adding that Mr. Ngaïssona was “fully aware that the group, he was helping to structure, arm, finance, instruct, and organize would inevitably target the Muslim civilian population in western C.A.R. He knew the vengeance within them.”
Both men pleaded not guilty.
“I don’t recognize myself in the charges brought against me,” Mr. Ngaïssona said.
“I have understood everything, and I categorically say that these charges are not correct,” Mr. Yékatom said.
Their trial is expected to last for around two years.
Perpetrators among the Seleka are being investigated and will also face justice before the Netherlands-based court, the prosecutor said. A Seleka leader, Mahamat Said, was handed over to the I.C.C. in January.
“There’s tragedy enough to go all around,” Mr. Vanderpuye said.
The fact that Seleka and anti-balaka rebels had teamed up to disrupt December’s election showed that the conflict was not a religious one at a community level, said Anthony Fabrice Kettemalet, a human-rights activist and schoolteacher who founded Bird of Peace, an organization that promotes nonviolence in the Central African Republic. Rather, he said, politicians had used religious divides as a tool to manipulate people and gain political power.
“We’ve lived for 50 years without justice,” Mr. Kettemalet said. “We hope that it’s just the first step in a long journey.”
Efforts to try perpetrators at home are underway, too. The Central African Republic set up a Special Criminal Court in 2015, and though it has not yet held a trial, it is carrying out investigations. It is reliant on the United Nations, and does not have enough funding, however.