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Congolese Soldiers Entered Bangui With Women And Children

Today, a witness told judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) that Jean-Pierre Bemba’s troops entered the Central African Republic (CAR) with women and children. However, the witness who stated this did not explain in open court what the role of the women and children were or whether they took part in committing atrocities against Central African civilians.

‘Witness 42,’ who started giving evidence in the afternoon, described the arrival of the Congolese soldiers in Bangui, the Central African capital. According to him, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops arrived in the suburb of PK 12 on the afternoon of November 7, 2002.

“When they got to PK 12, everyone knew about them and people were coming to see them. I was one of those people. When I got to the edge of the road, when I saw them, they were wearing…caps, berets. They were wearing all kinds of hats,” said the witness. “There were also children with them and also women.”

Prosecutors did not question the witness in open court about the children and women he said the MLC entered Bangui with. The witness testified only briefly before the end of the day’s proceedings. He gave most of his evidence in closed session.

Although Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner described ‘Witness 42’ as “not vulnerable,” she said he would testify with protective measures including the use of pseudonym as well as face and voice distortion in order “to ensure the continued safety and integrity of other vulnerable witnesses.”

Mr. Bemba is on trial at the ICC over his alleged failure to rein in his troops who raped, plundered, and murdered CAR civilians. The MLC were in the CAR between October 2002 and March 2003 to help the country’s then president Ange-Félix Patassé to fight off a coup attempt by the current president Francois Bozizé.

Earlier today, ‘Witness 80’ who started her testimony on Tuesday completed giving evidence. She described how MLC soldiers asked her to prepare meals for them after she had sought refugee in the PK 22 suburb.

Mr. Bemba’s defense lawyer Nkwebe Liriss inquired, “When they asked you to cook that food for them, did they draw their weapons at you?”

The witness responded, “They didn’t threaten us. They were there, they had their weapons, but they did not threaten us.”

‘Witness 80,’ who said earlier in the week that she, her children, and her husband were raped by MLC fighters, also stated that she is a member of OCODEFAD (L’Organisation pour la Compassion et le Développement des Familles en Détresse), an NGO that has helped rape survivors fill in application forms to participate as victims in the trial. This organization was founded by Bernadette Sayo, a cabinet minister in the current government of the CAR.

Mr. Nkwebe asserted to the ‘Witness 80’ that other witnesses had stated that money had been handed out to members of this NGO.

“I have not seen that. I can’t tell a lie. The only thing we received was soya,” she answered.

The trial continues tomorrow morning with the evidence of ‘Witness 42.’