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Prosecution Calls 23rd Witness in Bemba Trial

The prosecution in the war crimes trial of Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba today called their 23rd witness. In his brief appearance this afternoon testifying under the pseudonym ‘witness 112,’  he described the arrival of Mr. Bemba’s soldiers in the town of Begua in the Central African Republic (CAR) and how the soldiers then went on a looting spree.

According to him, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops arrived in Begua in November 2002 and stayed for three months. He recalled seeing the Congolese troops enter the town: “Some had military trousers and ordinary t-shirts, while others were wearing ranger boots and others [were] in trainers.”

Upon their arrival, the MLC soldiers started firing indiscriminately, he said, and “then they started to break down doors and to loot houses.” The witness continued, “All the houses of persons who had fled were looted.”

Amongst the soldiers who marched into the town was a commander called “Major.” The witness was able to distinguish the commander because he carried a pistol and two mobile phones.

The witness said “there were men and women” among the MLC fighters he saw march into Begua.

Mr. Bemba, the leader of the MLC, is on trial at the International Criminal Court for allegedly failing to control his troops who raped, murdered, and plundered in the CAR during 2002 and 2003. He has pleaded not guilty to all five charges.

Following a psychological and literacy assessment of the witness by the court’s Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU), judges granted the witness in-court assistance from VWU staff. In addition to those measures, Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner asked parties to the trial to avoid posing unnecessarily repetitive questions to ‘witness 112,’ particularly in relation to his wife’s death.

Meanwhile, earlier today, ‘witness 110’ completed giving evidence. In her four days of testimony, she described the pillaging of her home and that of her neighbor, allegedly by the MLC. She said shoe shiners who lived at Point Kilomètre 12 (or PK 12), a suburb of the CAR capital Bangui, played a scouting role by “pointing out houses belonging to major figures in the community so that those houses could be looted.”

During prosecution lawyer Eric Iverson’s redirect examination this morning, the witness explained that the shoe shiners were Congolese immigrants who did odd jobs in the CAR.

The trial continues tomorrow morning with further testimony from ‘witness 112.’