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The third witness in Jean-Pierre Bemba’s war crimes trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) completed her testimony today, having given the bulk of it in closed session. 

‘Witness 22’, who started giving evidence on Tuesday, stated that she was raped by three of Mr. Bemba’s Congolese troops on October 26, 2002. The soldiers also looted property from the home where she stayed, she said.

Defense counsel Aime Kilolo-Musamba today questioned the witness about excerpts from her March 2008 statement to prosecutors, in which she stated that her uncles, their wives, and children were in the house when the soldiers stormed it and raped her. 

“Were you raped in front of the children?” asked Mr. Kilolo.

“No. They took the children out of the bedroom,” said the witness.

The witness further stated that none of the family members who were in the house knew what was happening to her that night in her bedroom. The defense counsel then asked the witness how she was able to identify her rapists as members of the Movement for Congolese Liberation (MLC) given that other ethnic groups in the Central African Republic (CAR) were closely related to those from Congo, as well as to other troops who were present in the country’s capital at the time. 

“I just knew,” replied the witness, who testified with voice and face distortion, as well as the use of a pseudonym. In her earlier testimony, the witness stated that the soldiers had declared that they were from the MLC, the group Mr. Bemba commanded.

While the defense has attempted to suggest that soldiers who raped the witness could have been members of any of the several armed groups in the area at the time, the witness insisted that they were Congolese. She said they spoke the Congolese language Lingala and that they spoke French with a Congolese accent. 

Bemba, 48, is the most prominent person on trial by the court based in The Hague. He led the MLC military group before becoming vice president, and later the leader of the opposition, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). 

He faces two crimes against humanity and three war crimes resulting from his alleged failure to stop or to punish his troops as they committed crimes against the civilian population in the CAR. Prosecutors say these crimes, which included rape, murder, and pillaging, were committed between October 26, 2002 and March 15, 2003. The MLC troops were in the CAR to help the country’s then president, Ange-Félix Patassé, to stave off a coup attempt. 

‘Witness 22’ completed her testimony, and court officials suggested that she might be the last witness to give evidence before the court breaks for the winter recess on December 17. Judges have said that they would be available to deal with urgent matters during the recess that ends on January 4, 2011.