Today, a witness stated that Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers increased brutalities against Central African civilians following a visit to the country’s capital Bangui by the group’s leader Jean-Pierre Bemba.
‘Witness 63,’ who testified with face and voice distortion in order to keep his identity secret from the public, described to Mr. Bemba’s trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) how MLC fighters raped, looted, and murdered civilians with impunity. “They stole things, they assaulted you, they did everything they wanted. They could rape a woman in public along the roadside,” he stated.
Assingambi Zarambaud, a legal representative of victims participating in the trial, asked the witness whether the MLC brutalities waned after Mr. Bemba’s visit.
“After Bemba’s visit, the situation worsened. That is what I can tell you,” the witness said. However, the hearing thereafter went into private session. Thus, it was not possible to establish whether the witness pointed to any link between the visit and the increase in brutalities.
Most of the previous witnesses who have described Mr. Bemba’s visit to the Central African Republic (CAR) capital Bangui have said that atrocities by his fighters decreased after he addressed the troops following complaints from local civilians.
‘Witness 63’ today stated that MLC fighters took him to a town called Damara, but he did not say why. He said, however, that while he was there, Mr. Bemba visited his troops in the area. The witness did not state in public what the then Congolese rebel leader told his troops. ‘Witness 63’ also said Mr. Bemba visited the PK 12 suburb while the witness was there, but atrocities in the area had worsened following the visit.
‘Witness 63’ said he lived among the MLC fighters, who told him they blatantly committed crimes against CAR civilians because the soldiers were not born in Bangui and did not have any relatives in the area. He said the MLC did not hesitate to kill anyone and that they often administered corporal punishment to innocent civilians.
In his statement to prosecutors, sections of which Mr. Zarambaud read out in court, the witness stated that MLC commanders often sent their juniors out to loot goods from civilians. Those who were unable to provide goods or money to the Congolese soldiers were beaten, the witness confirmed.
“After the looting, the commander would take from the [junior soldiers] the money that was looted,” said the witness. However, the witness said he was not aware whether the top MLC commanders in CAR were always aware of the atrocities their men were committing.
The witness also said at a place called PK 45, he saw the corpses of four people who had been shot dead by an MLC gunship.
Marie-Edith Douzima-Lawson, another legal representative of victims participating in the trial, questioned the witness about the languages the MLC spoke, how he could tell commanders apart from junior fighters, and in what areas he had personally sighted the Congolese fighters. The witness said the brutal behavior of the MLC set them apart from Central Africans, and that while some of them spoke the CAR language Sango, they spoke it with a distinctly Congolese accent.
Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has denied charges that he failed to discipline his soldiers who allegedly committed mass rapes, killings, and plunder in the CAR during 2002 and 2003. His trial commenced last November and has so far heard from 20 prosecution witnesses.
The trial resumes on Monday when the defense will commence its cross-examination of ‘Witness 63.’