On the second day of his testimony, the Prosecutor General of the Central African Republic (CAR) described to the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba how they conducted judicial investigations into war crimes committed in his country during 2002 and 2003. He also testified about the findings of the national judicial probe, saying it had been concluded that Mr. Bemba’s troops were the perpetrators of these crimes.
Firmin Feindiro, the top prosecutor in the CAR, stated that they heard over 300 victims, three quarters of them rape victims. Cases of murder and looting were also heard, but they were fewer than the rape cases. According to him, the rape victims identified their attackers as members of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), Mr. Bemba’s private militia.
Still under questioning by prosecution lawyer Ibrahim Yillah, Mr. Feindiro said that during the national investigations, hearings, and questioning of victims, it emerged that there were numerous armed groups in the CAR at the time of the uprising. These groups included forces led by Colonel Abdoulaye Miskine, who reported to then president Ange-Félix Patassé, as well as SCPS (la Société centrafricaine de protection et de surveillance), a private security group that the witness said was led by Mr. Patassé’s chauffeur.
Besides, there was the presidential security group known as United Presidential Security (USP), Libyan forces, and troops from the 21-nation regional grouping, the Community of Saharan-Sahel State, or CEN-SAD. According to the witness, “ethnic militia groups” as well rebels led by François Bozizé, were also active in the CAR at the time Mr. Bemba’s troops were in that country.
However, Mr. Feindiro asserted that the victims who were heard by the judicial probe reported that troops from the various Central African armed groups did not commit any rapes. The probe heard that the group led by Mr. Miskine carried out executions at a cattle market in PK 13 (Point Kilomètre 13) suburb near the capital Bangui.
Mr. Bemba, 48, is on trial for allegedly failing to control his troops who raped, murdered, and plundered Central African civilians during 2002 and 2003. The MLC fighters were in the CAR at the behest of Mr. Patassé, who needed assistance to fight off a coup attempt led by Mr. Bozizé.
According to Mr. Feindiro, who is giving all his testimony in open court, the USP, which was led by Ferdinand Bombayake, was the only one of the Central African armed groups found to have worked with the MLC. He asserted that once Mr. Bemba’s troops entered the CAR, General Bombayake met them at the port and supplied them with materials, such as weapons, uniforms, and vehicles. Nevertheless, the witness added, it was found that “the USP were totally alien to the acts of violence, rapes, and looting.”
Mr. Feindiro said that among the “clear-cut distinctions” that enabled victims to identify the MLC and not the USP as the perpetrators was that the latter were “trained military men” in appropriate uniform, with insignia, berets, and well-kept hair and beards. Furthermore, these soldiers spoke Sango or French. The MLC, on the other hand, had ill-fitting uniforms, wore all sorts of footwear, used the Congolese language Lingala, and had unkempt hair and beards.
In denying the charges against him, Mr. Bemba’s defense argues that there were several militia groups committing crimes in Bangui at the time the MLC were in the CAR. The defense has also repeatedly queried the role played L’Organisation pour la Compassion et le Développement des Familles en Détresse (OCODEFAD), a non-government organization that assisted many of the victims participating in the trial.
The Central African prosecutor stated today that OCODEFAD, which was founded by an individual who is a minister in Mr. Bozizé’s current government, was involved in the national investigations. He explained that given the resource limitations of the national inquiry, OCODEFAD with its large-scale activities was able to reach victims living outside of Bangui and to refer them to the investigating judicial authorities.
Mr. Feindiro affirmed that throughout the process of interviewing victims, he and the examining judge acted independently. He said OCODEFAD did not have any influence on the final decisions reached by him as prosecutor and by the examining judge.
“In no way have I violated my oath or been influenced from the outside by OCODEFAD in dealing with this case,” said the witness. “I think the examining judge worked in the same way.”
The trial continues hearing from Mr. Feindiro tomorrow morning.