Three men accused of war crimes took the stand for the first time Monday during a Special Criminal Court (SCC) session in the Central African Republic.
The court, a hybrid body of local and foreign magistrates set up in 2015 with UN backing, is to render judgment on alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed since 2003.
The defendants are former members of the 3R militia which is accused of the massacre of 46 villagers in northwest CAR in May 2019. They face a long list of charges which include murder and torture.
The 3R (Return, Reclamation and Rehabilitation) is one of the CAR's most powerful armed groups, drawn mainly from the Fulani ethnic group.
One of the accused, Issa Sallet Adoum, appealed for clemency.
" I ask forgiveness to all Central Africans. It's an accusation but when your hierarchical leader gives you an order, you must know how to obey," Adoum said through an interpreter.
One of the poorest and most volatile countries in the world, the CAR plunged into civil war in 2013 largely along sectarian lines.
Violence fell back in intensity in 2018 but as recently as early 2021, two-thirds of the country lay in the hands of armed groups spawned in the conflict.
President Faustin Archange Touadera's weak government has struggled to impose order in the vast country.