A witness today told the war crimes trial of Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC) that Central African civilians carried out lootings in her neighborhood.
She said these civilians scared people away from their homes, claiming that Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers were going to attack them. The witness said the local civilians then robbed homes while their owners were in hiding.
‘Witness 29’ explained how she fled her home in an area called Mongoumba near the country’s capital Bangui after being attacked by soldiers she believed belonged to the MLC. On two occasions she was unable to reach the house when she attempted to return home.
“When we approached the town, young people alerted us, and we were afraid. It was only later on that we realized our chickens and ducks had been stolen. We understood that it was not the Banyamulenge [Congolese soldiers] but the young people who had scared us to stay in the bush so as to steal our property,” stated the witness.
She continued, “The theft had not been committed by the Banyamulenge because they did not spend enough time in Mongoumba to steal the animals. It was the young people who had stayed in the town who killed the domestic animals in order to eat them.”
Defense lawyer Nkwebe Liriss asked the witness for how long the MLC occupied Mongoumba.
“They came in the morning. That evening, they left the town,” she replied. According to her, Mr. Bemba’s soldiers arrived in her neighborhood on March 5, 2003.
‘Witness 29’ yesterday said she was raped by three MLC soldiers. She told the trial presided over by Judge Sylvia Steiner that about eight months after the attack, she tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
Meanwhile, the defense today presented a map of Mongoumba and its surrounding towns in the CAR, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Congo Brazzaville. Mr. Nkwebe then asserted that any one of the inhabitants of these towns could have been able to reach Mongoumba by foot, bike, canoe, or boat and could have perpetrated the crimes in that town due to “movement without obstacle of persons and groups to and from Mongoumba.”
Prosecutors of the ICC charge that Mr. Bemba, as president of the MLC, was responsible for the murder, rape, and pillaging committed against Central African civilians by his troops between October 2002 and March 2003. The troops were in the country to assist the then president Ange-Félix Patassé to fight off a coup attempt. Mr. Bemba’s defense has stated that numerous other troops were present in the CAR at the time and any one of them could have committed the crimes he is charged with.
The trial resumes on Friday with the testimony of a new prosecution witness.