(Adds victim testimony)
By Tiemoko Diallo
BAMAKO, Aug 18 (Reuters) - A Malian former police chief cut off people's hands during an occupation in 2012-13 by Islamist rebels who imposed a harsh form of Islamic law, a court heard on Friday as he was put on trial.
The trial is the first by a national Malian court for crimes by Islamists when they took over the desert north after an uprising by northern separatists, the International Federation for Human Rights said.
Aliou Mahamane Toure was head of police in the northern city of Gao during the 10-month regime. Witnesses say that he cut off the hands of people accused of stealing, including children.
He was arrested in 2013 and charged with associating with criminals, attacks against the state, aggravated injuries and possession of weapons of war - charges which he denies.
"My role was limited to arresting and bringing the accused before court. I did not judge anyone or cut off anyone's hands," Toure told the court.
"I remember three or four amputations. I did not attend all of them," he added.
Around a dozen victims travelled more than 1,200 km (745 miles) to the capital to testify against him, said Moctar Mariko, their lawyer and president of the Malian Human Rights Association.
One of them, a 34-year-old man, said that Toure had personally cut off his right hand after he was accused of stealing a piece of fabric that he had bought for his wife.
"They tied me to a chair... then they covered my head with a cloth and cut off my hand," said Algalass Ag. "I have never stolen in my life."
Another woman present said that Toure cut off the hands of four of her nephews after they were accused of stealing mobile phones on a bus.
"I was there. It was Aliou himself who displayed before the public the severed hands of the four children," said Mariam Maiga. Other people had their feet cut off, she said.
The Islamists were also known to conduct public stonings and floggings as punishment for adultery and other acts.
Judges at the International Criminal Court ruled this week that a former Islamist rebel jailed for wrecking holy sites in the ancient city of Timbuktu during the same period was liable for damages of 2.7 million euros ($3.2 million).
France intervened in Mali in 2013 to oust the rebels but Islamist militants still frequently launch attacks. Seven people were killed when unidentified gunmen attacked a U.N. peacekeeping base in Timbuktu this week.
($1 = 0.8521 euros)
(Additional reporting and writing by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)
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