A businessman who supplied foodstuffs to Jean-Pierre Bemba’s Congolese troops during their deployment in an armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) said today that he did not witness any crimes committed by the foreign soldiers.
Testifying under the pseudonym ‘Witness D04-066,’ he stated that during the October 2002-March 2003 armed conflict, he visited various CAR towns, such as the capital Bangui, Damara, and PK 55. These visits were related to his food supply business. In none of these towns did he witness, or hear, of abuses perpetuated by fighters belonging to the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), the group Mr. Bemba led.
Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC), where the former Congolese senator has been on trial since November 2010, accuse his troops of committing rapes, murders, and pillaging. The towns which ‘Witness D04-066’ said he visited during the conflict period are among the locations where prosecutors and several prosecution witnesses claim the crimes were committed.
‘Witness D04-066’ told the trial presided by over by Judge Sylvia Steiner that he fled his Congolese homeland in 1996 and gained political asylum in the CAR. He lived in that country and conducted business while he held refugee status until March 15, 2003, the day rebels overthrew President Ange-Félix Patassé, who had invited Mr. Bemba’s troops to prop up his fight against the insurgents.
Under questioning by prosecution lawyer Jean-Jacques Badibanga, the witness stated that he lost everything he owned in the CAR to looters. He said many other Congolese traders fled the neighboring country at the time and have not returned.
However, ‘Witness D04-066’ rejected suggestions by Mr. Badibanga that their departure was because of abuses committed by MLC fighters against Central African citizens. Rather, said the witness, it was because of “business jealousy” that pitted locals against Congolese nationals.
“Did you see or hear talk of crimes committed by the MLC?’ asked Mr. Badibanga.
“I didn’t see, I didn’t hear anything like that,” replied the witness.
The witness also said he never heard any local or foreign radio station mentioning crimes committed by Mr. Bemba’s soldiers. He also did not hear any civilians or President Patassé speak of atrocities. He only heard Mr. Patassé “congratulating” the MLC for defending and protecting his government.
‘Witness D04-066’ continues his testimony tomorrow morning.