A witness today stated that there were child soldiers among the ranks of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), the group led by Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, whose alleged brutalization of Central African civilians landed him in the dock at the International Criminal Court.
According to the witness, the minors mainly carried out reconnaissance missions in towns the MLC planned to attack. “Apparently they were used as scouts. So they would go to the locality and pass themselves off as children in trouble because of the war…they would walk and come back about five in the afternoon,” he narrated. The MLC would then advance on an area if the intelligence gathered by the boys indicated that it was safe to do so.
‘Witness 63,’ who started giving evidence yesterday, testified about the movement of Mr. Bemba’s troops in the PK12 and PK24 suburbs of the Central African Republic (CAR) capital Bangui. He described how the Congolese fighters robbed cell phones from civilians and then exchanged them for alcohol, and how they forcefully occupied civilians’ houses.
Prosecution lawyer Eric Iverson asked ‘Witness 63’ whether he accompanied the MLC as they moved from one suburb to another.
“Yes, I accompanied them. When they left, two days later, I followed them,” answered the witness. However, he did not state in open court why he followed the soldiers. The witness gave most of his evidence in closed session.
Mr. Bemba, a Congolese national, has acknowledged that his troops went to neighboring CAR to help the country’s then president, Ange-Félix Patassé, stave off a coup attempt. However, he has pleaded not guilty to the crimes he is accused of. Prosecutors at the ICC charge that Mr. Bemba is criminally responsible for two crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging).
The trial resumes on Tuesday to hear more evidence from ‘Witness 63.’