War crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba’s defense today focused its cross-examination of the top prosecutor of the Central African Republic (CAR) on statements made by a former general in the country’s armed forces to a judicial inquiry. This probe, led by the witness, sought to identify the perpetrators of the crimes committed against civilians, mainly in the country’s capital Bangui, during the 2002-2003 conflict.
Firmin Feindiro, the Central African Prosecutor-General, who continued his testimony that begun one week ago, today gave the bulk of his evidence in closed session – a stark departure from last week when he testified for four days in open court.
Last week, he described the investigation he led, which he said started in August 2003 and lasted “several months.” This investigation, ordered by his country’s justice minister, heard from more than 300 victims and about the same number of witnesses to atrocities around Bangui.
Before today’s hearing went into closed session, defense counsel Aime Kilolo-Musamba presented the witness with a statement of an unnamed general, which he said was taken during the CAR investigation to determine the individuals responsible for crimes committed during the conflict.
In the statement, the general named the members of the executive bureau of the Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People [MLPC], the then ruling political party led at the time by President Ange-Félix Patassé. The bureau consisted of key figures in the CAR military and defense units. It was Mr. Patassé, whose presidency was threatened by a spirited insurgency led by his sacked army chief Francois Bozizé, who called Mr. Bemba’s troops into the CAR to help him defeat the coup attempt.
Mr. Feindiro stated that some of the individuals implicated,including Mr. Patassé and his Prime Minister Martin Ziguélé, were never questioned during the probe, as they had fled the country. However, others such as Mr. Patassé’s former ministers for defense and for internal affairs, were questioned.
Mr. Kilolo-Musamba then sought to establish whether during their interview with Mr. Feindiro, International Criminal Court (ICC) investigators endeavored to seek information about any of these individuals or establish contact with them.
“I was only asked about President Patassé, but the questions seeking to establish information as to their [MLPC executive bureau] whereabouts, there were no such questions,” replied Mr. Feindiro.
The general’s statement, sections of which were read out in court today by Mr. Kilolo-Musamba, named members of a “crisis committee” he said was established at the CAR defense ministry. The committee, according to the general, was responsible for “taking major decisions with regard to [military] operations in the field.” Its members included the chief of the national army, the Chief Inspector of the Army, the Director-General of the Gendarme, and the Director-General of the Police Force.
Mr. Feindiro reiterated that ICC investigators did not, through him, seek to establish the contact or whereabouts of these key figures. In the statement to Bangui investigators, the unnamed general stated that troops from the Movement for the Liberation of Congo – Mr. Bemba’s private militia – were initially under the command of the deputy chief of staff of the Central African Army (FCA) when they entered Bangui. Later, they fell under the command of General Ferdinand Bombayake, the head of the United Presidential Security (USP).
The general’s statement also named the Central African military officers in charge of intelligence, logistics and communications at the command center of the MLC in Bangui. Mr. Feindiro said that none of these officers were questioned during the proceedings of the national inquiry. Equally, investigators from the ICC did not ask him anything about them.
Prosecutors at the ICC charge that Mr. Bemba, 48, is criminally responsible as a commander for the murder, rape, and pillaging allegedly committed by his MLC troops between October 2002 and March 2003. Mr. Bemba, a Congolese national, has acknowledged that troops from the MLC, which he led, went to neighboring CAR during this period. However, he has denied all charges against him, claiming that once the MLC left Congo, they were no longer under his control but that of Mr. Patassé.
The defense continues its cross-examination of Mr. Feindiro tomorrow morning.