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Bemba Trial Stalls as Witness is Taken Ill

Jean-Pierre Bemba’s war crimes trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) today stalled as the witness giving testimony was taken ill. The witness only testified briefly in the morning before the hearing was postponed. The hearing had been scheduled for the full day.

At the start of the day’s proceedings, ‘Witness 119’ complained that she had been in pain throughout the weekend. She added, however, that she had seen a doctor and felt well enough to continue with her testimony.

When she first appeared last Friday, this witness testified about brutalities committed by Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers against civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR) during March 2003. The witness narrated the gang-rape of young two girls, as well as how MLC troops were stockpiling pillaged goods.

Today, the witness gave most of her evidence in closed session. In open court, ‘Witness 119’ provided more detail  about how MLC soldiers stockpiled looted goods at Boy-Rabé market. She said the soldiers transported “high value items” across the River Oubangui into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The rest of the pillaged goods were abandoned at the river bank.

Mr. Bemba, a Congolese national, has been on trial at the ICC since last November although he has been in detention at The Hague-based court since July 2008. He is on trial for having failed to rein in his soldiers who carried out mass rapes, murders, and plunder in the CAR during 2002 and 2003. Whilst acknowledging that his MLC soldiers went to neighboring CAR during this period to help the country’s then president Ange-Félix Patassé stave off a coup attempt, Mr. Bemba has denied all charges against him. He has stated that once his troops crossed into the CAR, they were no longer under his command.

Before adjourning for the mid morning break, presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner announced that ‘Witness 119’ was not feeling well and that consultations with the Victims and Witness’ Unit (VWU) would determine whether or not she would be able to continue testifying. The hearing did not resume, and it is unclear when ‘Witness 119’ will reappear.