The eleventh witness called by the prosecution in the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC) today testified that Libyan troops, who took part in fighting in the Central African capital during 2002 and 2003, never committed atrocities against civilians.
Testifying under the pseudonym ‘Witness 73,’ he stated, “No one ever heard that the Libyans went into the neighborhoods and carried out acts of violence or that they beat or attacked anyone. The Libyans never did that.”
Under questioning by prosecuting lawyer Hesham Mourad, the witness recalled how the Libyans arrived in a suburb of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), on November 22, 2002. The witness testified with voice and image distortion and the use of a pseudonym intended to keep his identity secret lest he were subjected to reprisal attacks for participating in the trial.
“Were there any foreign forces involved in this fighting?” asked Mr. Mourad.
“There were Libyans from CEN-SAD,” responded ‘Witness 73’. CEN-SAD (Community of Saharan-Sahel States) is an international organization of 21 states founded in 1998 with strong support from the Libyan government.
The witness added, “I was present at the time. I went out to the main road to observe what was happening. There were armored tanks, which had crossed over to fight against François Bozizé. The foreign troops were Libyans – members of CEN-SAD.” At the time Mr. Bemba’s troops allegedly committed crimes against CAR civilians, they were in that country to help then president Ange-Félix Patassé to fight off a coup attempt led by Mr. Bozizé.
The witness explained today that the “Libyan troops” did not go to the Bangui suburb of PK 12. “They did not carry out any patrols up to PK 12. They were at their bases and did not carry out any patrol,” he said.
Asked by Mr. Mourad how these troops were dressed, the witness recalled that they were dressed in uniforms unlike those of the armed forces of the CAR, commonly known as Forces Armées Centrafricaines, or FACA.
“The Libyan uniforms were different from the uniform of the FACA forces,” stated ‘Witness 73.’ “They had two uniforms – dark green and there was also white fatigues.”
The witness stated that he did not know the language the Libyan troops spoke because those soldiers never associated with the local population. However, he was categorical that the Libyans never committed any atrocities against civilians. “No one ever heard that the Libyans went into the neighborhoods and carried out acts of violence, or that they beat or attacked anyone. The Libyans never did that,” said the witness.
On the other hand, said the witness, when the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops entered PK 12, they set about forcefully occupying civilians’ houses, forcing individuals to prepare food for them, and then looting CAR citizens’ properties.
Prosecutors at the ICC contend that Mr. Bemba is criminally responsible for two crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging) allegedly committed in the CAR between October 26, 2002 and March 15, 2003. His alleged criminal responsibility stems from his failure to stop or to punish his soldiers who murdered, raped, and pillaged. He has denied the charges.
‘Witness 73’ continues his testimony tomorrow morning.