The prosecution’s sixth witness in former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba’s trial today related how a commander in Mr. Bemba’s militia said that the then president of the Central African Republic ordered soldiers to kill boys as young as two years old.
According to the witness, the killings were to be committed in areas where President Ange-Félix Patassé thought the population supported General François Bozizé, who was attempting to overthrow Patassé’s government. It was Mr. Patassé who invited Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops into the country to help him beat back the coup attempt.
Defense attorney Nkwebe Liriss today read out excerpts from the interview ‘Witness 23’ gave to prosecution investigators, in which he mentioned that a MLC corporal, who was one of the commanders of the militia, talked about Mr. Patassé’s alleged order to kill.
“When you say that you confirm the statements of this corporal, he said President Patassé, is that not correct?” asked Mr. Nkwebe.
“That is correct,” replied the witness. “He said that the president had given the order to come to kill the boys of two years and up because it was there that the rebels were installed and from there, they were carrying out incursions.”
The witness quoted the MLC corporal as having said that because they had not found rebels in the area, they got angry and started committing atrocities against civilians.
Mr. Bemba, 48, is on trial for allegedly failing to control his troops who raped, murdered, and plundered in the CAR during 2002 and 2003. He has denied the charges, arguing that the moment the MLC fighters crossed into the CAR, they were under the control of Mr. Patassé.
Today, ‘Witness 23’ stated that Mr. Patassé, Mr. Bozizé, and Mr. Bemba should all face justice for their roles in the atrocities civilians suffered. Mr. Bozizé is the current president of the CAR, having deposed Mr. Patassé in 2003.
Mr. Nkwebe stated today that at the time Mr. Bemba’s troops entered the CAR, there were several groups fighting on the side of Mr. Patassé. He said among these were the presidential guard, the regular army known as FACA (Forces Armées Centrafricaines), and the United Presidential Security (USP). There were also Libyans who fought on Mr. Patasse’s side, he said.
The defense lawyer added that Mr. Patassé’s aide, Miskine, Abdoulaye, ran another militia group outside of the army, while the Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People (MLPC) – the political party led by Mr. Patassé – also had a number of armed people who were not part of the regular army. The defense argues that any of these groups could have committed the crimes being attributed to Mr. Bemba’s soldiers.
The witness said Mr. Bemba’s rebels arrived in the Bangui suburb of PK12 on November 7, 2002, just after Mr. Bozizé’s troops had withdrawn from the area. He said the Congolese rebels wore CAR military uniforms. He added that while the population welcomed the rebels as liberators who would save them from the fighting between the forces of Mr. Bozizé and Mr. Patassé, the day after their arrival the MLC started terrorizing civilians.
However, Mr. Nkwebe said a military source who was personally involved in the conflict had told him that the MLC could not have conquered the neighborhood of PK12 less than two weeks after their entry into the country, that is, on November 13, 2002.
“Do you still maintain that the rape was committed by them [Mr. Bemba’s forces]?” the attorney asked.
The witness responded, “Where it concerns my rape or the atrocities committed on my family, I can’t change that. Where it concerns the date, I am not sure. What I have told here is really what happened to me.”
‘Witness 23’ last Friday told the trial that three MLC soldiers sodomized him in front of his wives and his children. He said over four days the soldiers returned to his home and raped his children and wives.
The witness said today that some of the soldiers who were raping and looting spoke Sango, a Central African dialect. He recalled that one of them told him that local leaders in the PK12 area had to be punished because they had allowed their children to join the rebellion against Mr. Patassé. The witness explained that Congolese nationals who were doing odd jobs such as shining shoes in and around Bangui before the arrival of Mr. Bemba’s group joined the MLC once they took charge of Bangui suburbs.
“Who in the CAR recruited these shoe shiners?” asked Mr. Nkwebe.
“I know nothing about the recruitment,” replied the witness. “What I know is that when they saw their [Congolese] brothers arriving, they wanted to do what their brothers were doing. That’s why they voluntarily joined.”
The cross-examination of ‘Witness 23’ continues tomorrow.