Today, the 20th witness called by prosecutors in the trial of Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba completed giving his testimony. ‘Witness 63’ has testified for two weeks, almost exclusively in private session.
In open session today, the witness told court that Mr. Bemba’s soldiers did not understand the geography of the Central African Republic (CAR), where they allegedly committed rapes, killings, and pillaging over which the former Congolese vice president is on trial.
“Was it your impression that the Banyamulenge [Mr. Bemba’s soldiers] did not understand the geography of your country?” asked defense lawyer Peter Haynes.
“It is true,” replied the witness. “The geography is different and the map that they had was also different.”
The witness, who has earlier testified that he followed the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops as they marched into Central African towns, asserted today that it was much later in a provincial town that the Congolese soldiers got hold of a map.
Mr. Haynes then asked ‘Witness 63’ how, without a map, MLC fighters managed to progress deep into the CAR. The witness said this was because Mr. Bemba’s soldiers used information received in the combat zone, including from child scouts.
However, the defense presented excerpts from the interview the witness gave to prosecution investigators of the International Criminal Court, in which he only stated that the Congolese soldiers relied on information from the combat zone.
“Both things happened. These two situations are both true,” said ‘witness 63.’ The witness contended that thanks to the defense’s questioning, he was able to remember certain things that he had forgotten during the interview.
‘Witness 63’ also estimated that he followed the Congolese soldiers for “two months, if not more.”
The prosecution contends that Mr. Bemba, as the commander in chief of the MLC is responsible for three counts of war crimes (rape, murder, and pillaging) and two crimes against humanity (murder and rape) committed by the MLC troops as they rampaged in the CAR during the 2002-2003 conflict.
The trial continues tomorrow morning to hear the testimony of a new witness.