War crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba’s troops started shooting civilians after losing a battle to Central African soldiers, a witness stated today.
‘Witness 42’ told Mr. Bemba’s trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) that soldiers belonging to the accused’s militia lost an important battle at the PK 22 suburb on November 7, 2002, and then turned their anger on civilians.
“Some few soldiers returned to their base at PK 12 and it was upon their return that they became furious given that they had lost many men and equipment at the front,” recalled the witness. “They were very angry and they considered everyone as a rebel – young men and…old people.”
The witness continued: “They were shooting people and beating up everybody. After that fighting, they became really violent and caused everyone to flee into the bush.”
Under cross-examination by defense lawyer Peter Haynes, ‘Witness 42’ also stated that the furious Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops shot his cousin dead. He said Mr. Bemba’s troops also shot the husband of Bernadette Sayo, who later founded a nongovernmental organization to help victims of the Congolese soldiers’ atrocities. Ms. Sayo, a minister in the current Central African government, founded OCODEFAD (L’Organisation pour la Compassion et le Développement des Familles en Détresse), which has assisted many of the victims participating in Mr. Bemba’s trial.
Prosecutors at the ICC allege that Mr. Bemba knew that his troops were committing mass rape, killings, and looting in the Central Africa Republic during 2002 and 2003 but did not take action to stop or to punish them. He has denied all the five charges he faces.
Most of the cross-examination of ‘Witness 42’ was conducted in closed session. In the few brief moments when he testified in open court, the witness was questioned about the statement he made to ICC prosecution investigators. Mr. Haynes also questioned him about the manner in which the investigators interviewed him as well as his witness. The anonymous witness testified with face and voice distortion.
The cross-examination of ‘Witness 42’ continues tomorrow.