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Bemba’s lawyer says several militias committed atrocities

A defense lawyer in the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba today stated that there were several militia groups that committed atrocities in Bangui at the time the accused’s troops were in the capital of the Central African Republican (CAR).

While cross-examining a witness, who has told court that Mr. Bemba’s troops raped her, shot her brother, and looted property from their house, defense lawyer Nick Kaufman mentioned several fighting groups he said operated in Bangui.

Mentioning the names of various groups, the defense lawyer asked ‘witness 87’ whether she knew of them. The witness responded that she had heard of most of the groups Mr. Kaufman mentioned.

The lawyer asked the witness whether she knew a person called Abdoulaye Miskine, who he said was helping the CAR’s then president, Ange-Félix Patassé, to fight an attempted coup led by sacked army chief of staff François Bozizé.

‘Witness 87’ responded that she had indeed heard that Mr. Miskine was fighting the rebel soldiers.

“Did you hear that Abdoulaye Miskine and his group were very violent people?” Mr. Kaufman asked.

The witness replied, “I have no information about that.”

When the defense attorney asked the witness whether she had not heard about a massacre carried out at a meat market in Bangui by Miskine and his troops, the witness responded that she had heard of the incident.

Mr. Miskine, reportedly a Chadian national, was an aide to Mr. Patassé from 1993 to 2003. He was in charge of a special unit outside the army that fought coup attempts by Mr. Bozizé.

Mr. Bemba’s lawyers have charged that besides the Movement for Congolese Liberation (MLC), which the accused led,  there were many fighting groups in Bangui at the time the MLC fighters are alleged to have committed the rapes, murders, and plunders over which Mr. Bemba is on trial.

The lawyers today suggested to the witness that Mr. Bozizé’s troops withdrew from Bangui later than the dates she gave, indicating that they were still in the capital when the MLC joined the campaign against the insurgents. Mr. Kaufman also suggested that there were Sudanese troops fighting with Mr. Patassé.

In her testimony, the witness said all soldiers she saw committing atrocities were Congolese. She said although they wore uniforms similar to those of Mr. Patassé’s presidential guard, they spoke Lingala – a Congolese language.

Mr. Kaufman asked the witness how she was able to recognize the language spoken by the soldiers as Lingala because she had said in her statement that she only spoke the Central African dialect Sango and a little French. The witness answered that although she did not understand Lingala, she could recognize it when it was spoken.

The defense lawyer also asked how the witness was able to recognize the boots and uniform worn by the soldiers who raided the house where she stayed, considering that there was a power cut at the time.

“We used oil lamps to shed light,” the witness answered.

The cross-examination of ‘witness 87’ continues tomorrow morning.