The trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC) today heard that some Central African civilians joined the accused’s militia when it was deployed in their country in 2002.
Testifying for the second day, ‘witness 110’ told the court presided over by Judge Sylvia Steiner that the Central African civilians who collaborated with Mr. Bemba’s soldiers included porters, guards, and shoe shiners. The witness gave her evidence with protective measures, including image and voice distortion.
According to the witness, the shoe shiners had migrated from the Democratic Republic of Congo to the Central African Republic (CAR) and spoke both Congolese and Central African languages. She said they acted as scouts and pointed out houses of “those who had money” for the Banyamulenge to loot. Banyamulenge is the term Central African people used to refer to Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers.
During 2002 and 2003, Mr. Bemba sent his Congolese troops to the neighboring country to help its president quell an armed rebellion. As the MLC’s commander-in-chief, Mr. Bemba is on trial at the ICC for failing to stop or punish his troops who, during their stay in that country, allegedly murdered, raped, and plundered.
Yesterday, ‘witness 110’ stated that the MLC who arrived in her neighborhood on October 30, 2002, looted property from her house and that of her neighbor. However, under cross-examination by defense lawyer Aime Kilolo-Musamba, the witness stated today that it was her neighbor’s guard who told her that it was the Banyamulenge who looted her house.
“When we fled, he [the guard] was among the people who had remained [behind]. When I came back, I went to see him to find out what happened to my possessions, and he explained to me what happened,” the witness said.
Asked by Mr. Kilolo-Musamba when exactly the guard informed her of this, the witness replied, “After president Bozizé took power.” François Bozizé, the current CAR president, led the 2002-2003 rebellion that toppled Ange-Félix Patassé’s regime in March 2003.
Meanwhile, under questioning by Assingambi Zarambaud, a legal representative of victims participating in the trial, ‘witness 110’ recalled how the MLC did not have a place to stay when they arrived in her neighborhood. “They did not have tents. They stayed in private homes,” the witness said. She added that the foreign troops took beds, mats, and foam mattresses from civilians’ homes.
The witness also stated that the MLC had provisions for food and Central Africans who “worked for them” would buy them food from the market. The cooks, after preparing the food, would be forced to taste it before the soldiers ate it.
The defense will continue to cross-examine ‘witness 110’ on Monday, June 13.