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Bangui Judge Tells Court Why he Dismissed Charges Against Bemba

A Central African Republic (CAR) judge has told International Criminal Court (ICC) judges why he dismissed charges against former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba. The charges had been brought before Pamphile Oradimo, the Senior Judge of the Regional Court in Bangui, by his country’s top prosecutor.

However, Mr. Oradimo, who was testifying for the second day in the war crimes trial at the court based in The Hague, today stated that when Mr. Bemba became the vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), it became imprudent to charge him in the neighboring country.

Under cross-examination by defense counsel Aime Kilolo-Musamba, the Bangui judge stated that at the end of his investigations in September 2004, he issued an order dismissing all charges prosecutors intended to bring against Mr. Bemba. “This was to avoid any possible diplomatic problems with our neighboring country [DRC],” he said.

The investigation Mr. Oradimo conducted sought to establish those responsible for crimes committed during the country’s 2002–2003 conflict.

The witness asserted that prior to issuing the order for the dismissal of charges against Mr. Bemba, he had heard from several victims of brutalities, as well as military officers who were involved in the armed conflict. However, he did not say what the military commanders told him.

Mr. Oradimo stated that he did not gather any evidence on the criminal responsibility of Mr. Bemba for crimes committed during the conflict. Instead, the witness said he asked the military commanders questions about the organization and command of operations during the armed campaign in which Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops took part.

Prosecutors charge that Mr. Bemba is criminally responsible for the murder, rape, and pillaging allegedly committed by his troops who were in the CAR at the request of then president Ange-Félix Patassé, who needed assistance to fight off a coup attempt. Mr. Bemba has denied all charges against him. He has claimed that not only could any of the numerous armed groups who operated in the CAR at the time have committed the crimes, but also that once the MLC left Congo, they were no longer under his control but that of Mr. Patassé.

Under questioning by prosecution lawyer Petra Kneur, Mr. Oradimo said today that during his investigations he found that it was not only the MLC who that perpetrated crimes against civilians; Central African government troops did too.

“It was mostly MLC troops that were being accused [of the crimes],” he said. However, he added, other militia groups such as the one led by Mr. Patassé’s aide Colonel Abdoulaye Miskine also brutalized civilians.

“Miskine’s men in light of the investigations were really more guilty of crimes, such as murder. They also looted property and robbed certain people in provincial towns,” said Mr. Oradimo. Besides Miskine’s men, the other CAR militia groups “only committed isolated crimes.”

The defense continues it cross-examination of Mr. Oradimo tomorrow morning.