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Central African Magistrate Concludes Testimony

Today, Flavien Mbata, a magistrate in the Central African Republic (CAR) who has been testifying in the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba at the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC), completed giving evidence. He has testified for four days via video link from the CAR capital Bangui.

Mr. Mbata, who serves as a director in his country’s Constitutional Court, has recounted how a group of the accused’s troops occupied and looted his house. He has also presented to court documents he said retreating troops left on the floor of his bedroom after their three month occupation of his house. The documents included an information bulletin and a military training manual, both headed ‘Congolese Liberation Army.’

In his final day of testimony, Mr. Mbata narrated how rebels led by General Francois Bozizé attempted to topple the country’s then president Ange-Félix Patassé on October 25, 2002. The rebels who were based in the northern part of the country, advanced on Bangui, passing through Point Kilomètre 12 (PK 12).

He said that seven days later on November 1, 2002, Mr. Bemba’s militia arrived in PK 12. That day, he received a phone call from an individual going by the in-court pseudonym ‘Mary’ informing him that troops from the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) had invaded his house.

Aime Kilolo-Musamba, one of lawyers defending Mr. Bemba in the trial, then read out excerpts of a speech, allegedly delivered by Mr. Patassé in the seven days following the coup attempt: “Regarding what happened, those who suffered most during the events of October 25, [2002] were the magistrates… the magistrates suffered a lot, their property was destroyed, they were driven out of their homes, their gowns were taken away and rubbed in the mud.”

“Considering that speech, did you not imagine or think that the militia, who entered your compound and pillaged your residence, were Bozizé’s rebels?” asked Mr. Kilolo-Musamba.

“No, I cannot confirm that,” replied Mr. Mbata. “The speech was of a general nature. I can not rely on it and say it was Bozizé’s rebels.”

Mr. Bemba, a Congolese national, is on trial at the ICC for failing to stop or punish his MLC soldiers, who allegedly carried out widespread rapes, murders, and plunder in the CAR during 2002 and 2003. The MLC troops arrived in the country following the October 25, 2002 coup attempt, at the invitation of Mr. Patassé who was desperate to beat back the insurgents.

While acknowledging that his troops were present in the CAR during the conflict, Mr. Bemba has denied all charges against him, claiming that not only could any other armed militia group involved in the conflict have committed the alleged crimes, but also that once the MLC left Congo, they were no longer under his control but that of Mr. Patassé.

Tomorrow morning, the prosecution is due to call a new witness going by the pseudonym ‘witness 169.’