Jean-Pierre Bemba’s defense today attempted to punch holes in the testimony of the first prosecution witness, by questioning him how he could be sure that it was troops belonging to the group commanded by the accused that committed atrocities in the Central African Republic (CAR) during 2002 and 2003.
Equally, the defense attempted to discredit the accounts of murder and rape purportedly carried out by Mr. Bemba’s Movement for Congolese Liberation (MLC) soldiers, which the witness has recounted in court since he started testifying on Tuesday.
Going by the code name ‘Witness 38’, the first individual to testify against Mr. Bemba has said no other armed group in the country – besides the MLC – committed atrocities against civilians.
But defense attorney Peter Haynes asked the witness whether he knew an individual called Martin Koumtamadji a.k.a. Colonel Abdoulaye Miskine. The witness replied that he knew the individual to have been the “right hand man” of then CAR president Angé-Felix Patassé – the man who invited the MLC to his country to help him stave off a coup attempt. “I think he is in exile in Libya and leading a rebellion,” stated ‘Witness 38’.
The witness went on to explain that Miskine was the head of Patassé’s presidential guard which spearheaded the campaign against the armed rebellion that sought to overthrow Mr. Patassé before Mr. Bemba’s Congolese troops arrived in the country.
Mr. Haynes then asked: “About the cattle market at PK13 [a suburb of the country’s capital Bangui], were you aware that something terrible happened there?”
“Everyone is aware of the event that occurred at PK 13. All CAR citizens know about it, the media and international press talked about it,” replied the witness.
“Did it involve Miskine’s forces?” asked the defense attorney.
“Yes,” responded the witness, “he had carried out a raid on the market because when the rebels of Bozizé set up, he went on a punitive expedition at the cattle market.”
Francois Bozizé attempted to overthrow Mr. Patassé by force of arms after he had been sacked as army chief of staff.
Mr. Bemba’s attorneys have argued that it is Mr. Patassé rather than their client who should be on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) since the MLC troops were under his troops once they crossed from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) into the CAR. Prosecutors at the ICC charge that Mr. Bemba – a former vice president of the DRC – is criminally responsible for having failed to stop or punish his troops as they raped, murdered and pillaged.
Mr. Haynes asked the witness how the MLC troops could be distinguished from Patassé’s presidential guard. He answered that the presidential guard were distinguished by two things: a green beret and the initials ‘GP’ on their arm or soldiers. “None of the MLC soldiers had such insignia,” he said.
The defense attorney also questioned the witness why he had in his statement to prosecutors during 2003 stated that he did not witness any rape incident but went on to claim in 2008 that he had in fact witnessed one. The witness said he had not paid attention to detail at the time of the first interview.
The defense will continue cross-examining ‘Witness 38’ on Monday.