The second victim to testify against Jean-Pierre Bemba today dismissed video footage shown in court by the defense that described as “liberators” soldiers belonging to the accused’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC).
Judes Mbetingou said the footage consisting of interviews Radio France Internationale (RFI) journalist Gabriel Kahn conducted with residents of Sibut town was “staged.”
Since he started giving evidence in the trial last Thursday, Mr. Mbetingou has stated that Mr. Bemba’s Congolese soldiers “wreaked havoc everywhere” during their two-week stay in Sibut. He recalled that residents of this Central African Republic (CAR) town, including figures of authority, fled to the bush following the arrival of the accused’s fighters on February 24, 2003.
Among those who fled was the town’s mayor, who Mr. Mbetingou said stayed in the bush for “several weeks” until François Bozizé toppled the regime of president Ange-Félix Patassé in March 2003.
In the video footage screened in court today, the mayor was shown in an interview with Mr. Kahn, in which he stated that he had fled his home in October 2002 for over three months following the arrival of Mr. Bozizé’s rebel forces. The mayor added that the rebels had driven residents out of their homes and into the bush to “live like animals.”
“We lived on cassava leaves and what have you, like indigenous people. They [rebels] were seeking to arrest me and all figures of authority. They wanted our heads,” the mayor stated in the video.
The mayor recounted numerous verbal complaints he had received from civilians of looting and rape committed by the Bozizé rebels. The mayor then thanked the Patassé loyalist forces, including the MLC, for liberating Sibut and allowing him and other residents of the town to go back to “normal life.” He suggested that the MLC soldiers should stay on in the town until its residents were fully safe.
“Do you recognize the man in the tape?” asked defense lawyer Peter Haynes.
“That is the assistant to the mayor,” replied Mr. Mbetingou, who is also known in the trial as Victim a/1317/10.
“I suggest to you that this is the mayor [of Sibut] and he had just come back into town two days after the Banyamulenge [Congolese soldiers] arrived,” said Mr. Haynes.
“This person, I do not know him. I do not understand this film. It was staged,” responded the victim.
Mr. Bemba stands accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity arising from his alleged failure to control his troops who reportedly murdered, raped, and pillaged while they were deployed in the CAR armed conflict. The Congolese forces were in the neighboring country to assist Mr. Patassé fight off a coup attempt led by Mr. Bozizé. International Criminal Court prosecutors charge that the MLC’s progression in the country was marked by widespread crimes against civilians.
In another video shown in court, a resident of Sibut stated that the Bozizé rebels had killed many of his kin. He expressed gratitude to Mr. Bemba’s soldiers for liberating them from the Bozizé rebels’ four months occupation of the town.
Asked by Mr. Haynes if he recognized the resident as someone from Sibut, Mr. Mbetingou responded that the video did not “reflect the reality.” He said, “The entire video has a political stance to it, so I really doubt all these remarks are truthful.”
Mr. Haynes then put it to the victim that as stated by the individuals in the video, Mr. Bozizé’s rebels indeed occupied Sibut from October 2002 until February 2003, and committed crimes in the town.
“Those people were lying. Any right-thinking, normal person would not have made such statements,” responded the victim. “If Bozizé’s rebels had committed acts of violence, I would have told you so.”
The end of Mr. Mbetingou’s evidence brings to an end the testimony of the two victims granted leave to give oral testimony. Three other victims will present their views and concerns by means yet to be determined by judges. The victims’ lawyers and the prosecution have suggested that these victims could testify via video link.
Before court adjourned this afternoon, presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner announced that the “next procedural steps in the proceedings” would be communicated in due course.