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Central African Soldiers Looked on as Bemba’s Men Rampaged

Soldiers from the Central African Republic (CAR) army looked on as Congolese soldiers brutalized civilians in the capital Bangui, according to testimony heard today at the trial of war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba.

Even when Central African civilians reported to their soldiers that the foreign fighters belonging to Mr. Bemba’s group were brutalizing them, no action was taken, said the witness. Testifying for the second day, Flavien Mbata, a director in the Constitutional Court, described the inaction of his country’s military when he reported to them that Mr. Bemba’s troops had forcefully occupied his house.

He asked a particular military officer referred to in court as ‘Nick’ to evict the intruders, but this officer took no action and the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers occupied the house for three months.

“I asked that person [Nick] whether he could do something, that the house they were occupying was not the house of a politician but a judge and therefore they should leave my home,” Mr. Mbata narrated. In response to questioning from Marie-Edith Douzima-Lawson, who is one of the legal representatives of victims participating in the trial, the witness added that he did not receive feedback from ‘Nick.’

Also going by the pseudonym ‘witness 108,’ Mr. Mbata said, “I thought that the army, which is supposed to be able to protect the civilian population, should have acted. Given that I was a magistrate, I thought they would have put pressure on the occupiers so that my home [would] be made available to me. To this day, I do not understand the attitude of the authorities.”

Yesterday, Mr. Mbata presented to court documents he said retreating MLC troops left behind in his house. The documents, which he found on the floor of his bedroom when he returned to his house in February 2003, included an information bulletin and a military training manual. The documents were titled “Congolese Liberation Army.”

Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) charge that Mr. Bemba’s troops raped, pillaged, and murdered civilians while in the CAR during the 2002-2003 conflict and that Mr. Bemba as their commander-in-chief failed to restrain or sanction them. He denies the charges.

Meanwhile, under cross-examination by defense lawyer Aime Kilolo-Musamba, Mr. Mbata stated that besides informing ‘Nick’ of the MLC’s occupation of his home, he did not report the incident to any other authorities. He only reported the looting, on September 24, 2008 (six years later) to the Gendarme when he learned that the ICC had opened investigations into the crimes committed and that witnesses and victims could come forward.

Also in his testimony today, Mr. Mbata told of the numerous occasions he saw the Congolese soldiers driving from Point Kilomètre 12 (PK 12) to the center of Bangui. They travelled in green Central African military vehicles and they were often accompanied by high-ranking officers of the CAR army.

Some previous witnesses have stated that the MLC disarmed Central African soldiers and did not allow them into the areas where the Congolese troops were. The trial has also heard that at one time there was a fire fight when local soldiers attempted to stop Mr. Bemba’s troops from transporting looted goods to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The MLC were in that country to help its former president fight off a coup attempt.

The trial will continue to hear Mr. Mbata tomorrow morning.