The defense for war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba today sought to punch holes in the testimony of a witness, who previously described looting and gang-rapes allegedly committed by the accused’s soldiers.
Among others, the defense disputed the dates of which the witness said Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops entered the Central African Republic (CAR). Furthermore, the defense questioned the witness about the conduct of various militia groups who operated in the country’s capital Bangui during 2002 and 2003.
Defense lawyer Aimé Kilolo-Musamba contended that contrary to the assertion by ‘Witness 119’ that MLC troops entered the suburb of PK 12 on October 28, 2002, they actually did not reach that area until October 30. Mr. Kilolo-Musamba also called into question the explanation the witness gave as to why she believed the soldiers who brutalized civilians were members of Mr. Bemba’s group.
When asked if she knew an individual known as Miskine, the witness replied that she knew this person to have been “in the inner circle” of then head of state Ange-Félix Patassé.
Mr. Kilolo-Musamba continued, “Do you know whether Miskine’s troops were involved in the violent acts and abuses that took place at Bangui during the events in question?”
The witness replied, “The sole thing that I know is that the morning of the day when the Banyamulenge [MLC soldiers] left Boy-Rabé neighborhood, Miskine’s men had shot at the local inhabitants.”
Numerous prosecution witnesses have testified that Colonel Abdoulaye Miskine, who commanded a special unit outside of the army that fought insurgents attempting to overthrow Mr. Patassé, led a massacre at the Bangui cattle market.
Mr. Bemba is on trial over rapes, murders, and plunder committed in the CAR by his troops. He has denied the charges and stated that any of the myriad militia groups active in Bangui at the time could have committed these crimes.
Asked whether she knew about the defense and vigilante units that operated in various Bangui neighborhoods, ‘Witness 119’ explained that these groups were set up at the behest of Mr. Patassé.
“Do you know whether these groups were organized as private militia of Patassé at the time?” asked Mr. Kilolo-Musamba.
The witness answered, “At the particular time when these groups were being put together, authorities in each neighborhood had to supervise [them]. They were responsible for monitoring and security.”
Mr. Kilolo-Musamba asked the witness whether it was not true that members of these militia groups were unemployed youths that supported Mr. Patassé.
The witness replied that with regard to one of three groups mentioned by Mr. Kilolo-Musamba, this was indeed the case. “Most of them were unemployed youths trained, and since they had no jobs, many of them followed or rallied around President Patassé,” said ‘Witness 119.’
“Do you know whether these militia were involved in the commission of crimes and abuses during the time of events?” asked Mr. Kilolo-Musamba.
“We had no such information after they rallied around President Patassé, and they fled together,” the witness replied. She added that she did not know what role the various militia loyal to Mr. Patassé played during the upheaval in Bangui.
Mr. Kilolo-Musamba asked the witness to explain why she initially told prosecution investigators that MLC troops reached her neighborhood on October 22, 2002, then days later she stated that they had arrived on October 28, 2002.
“When the investigators asked me questions in Bangui, it was my duty to tell the truth. If I wasn’t sure of an answer, I had to carry out some checks,” replied the witness.
The defense lawyer suggested to the witness that the troops she saw were Central African soldiers, not members of the MLC.
“If they were CAR troops, I would have said so,” responded the witness. “I can recognize CAR soldiers, and they could not have committed such abuse and violent acts.”
The cross-examination of ‘Witness 119’ continues tomorrow morning.