The two witnesses who testified this week in trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC) cited Rwandan nationals who fought in the group led by the accused, as well as a Central African general, among those who were involved in brutalizing civilians.
‘Witness 209’ completed giving evidence on Wednesday, having testified for more than two weeks. He was followed on the stand by ‘witness 110.’ Both testified with face and voice distortion in order to protect their identities.
On Monday, ‘witness 209’ testified that General Ferdinand Bombayake, the commander of the Central African Republic (CAR) presidential guard, killed his brother using a helicopter gunship supplied by the Libyan government. “It was Bombayake who killed my elder brother in the ambulance that was transporting him,” said the witness. He did not state in open court under what circumstances his brother came to be injured to necessitate his evacuation by the ambulance.
Under cross-examination by defense lawyer Peter Haynes, ‘witness 209’ said between October and December 2002, the Central African town of Damara was shelled “every two or three days” by the Libyan aircraft flown by General Bombayake. At the time, Mr. Bozizé’s rebel forces occupied the town.
Mr. Bombayake led the United Presidential Security during the 2002-2003 conflict in the CAR. At the time, then president Ange-Félix Patassé was facing an armed rebellion led by his former army chief Francois Bozize, prompting him to call in assistance from Mr. Bemba’s Congolese troops.
According to evidence previously heard in the trial, a judicial probe by Central African authorities found that the presidential guard was the only one of the local army’s units that worked with Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC). The probe determined that the presidential guard and their Congolese allies fell under the direct command of President Patassé and worked through Mr. Bombayake. Witnesses have also said Libyan government troops fought on the side of Mr. Patassé during the conflict that ended in Mr. Bozizé’s victory in March 2003.
Meanwhile, ‘witness 209’ also told the trial that there were Rwandan nationals among the MLC contingent deployed in the CAR. “There was a group of Rwandans,” said the witness. “Then you had the Banyamulenge they had conscripted and taught weapons handling in Damara.” According to the witness, the Banyamulenge were ill-trained and lowly soldiers and were the ones responsible for most of the crimes committed by the MLC while they were in the CAR.
‘Witness 209’ said there were also “former soldiers of Mobutu” and a group of Mbaka-speaking people. Mobutu Sese Seko was the Congolese president between 1965 and 1997; while Mbaka speakers are found both in the CAR and in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
‘Witness 209’ also said that he saw MLC soldiers ferry looted goods from the CAR to DRC. The soldiers loaded pillaged items into an aircraft that landed in the Central African town of Sibut. “A plane landed at the headquarters of the Banyamulenge [MLC soldiers] and took away some goods,” he said. According to him, the plundered goods were transported to the DRC.
Among the goods he saw the Congolese soldiers loading into the plane were motorcycles, refrigerators, and generator sets. He said that when the plane took off from Sibut, it headed in the direction of Bangui, the capital of the CAR.
When ‘witness 110’ took the witness stand on Thursday, she recounted how armed men belonging to Mr. Bemba’s group looted property from her house and that of her neighbor. She also described the shooting of a woman just outside of her compound. The witness said this woman appeared to have lost her way around the neighborhood, and when she walked past the Mr. Bemba’s soldiers they summoned her. The witness said the unidentified woman attempted to run away, and the soldiers shot her dead.
She went on to testify that the MLC soldiers arrived at her neighbor’s compound some time in October 2002 and stayed there until mid February 2003. The witness said, “When they entered the compound, they started looting property and taking it away.” The items pillaged from her neighbor’s house were loaded onto a military vehicle and carted away.
“How long did the Banyamulenge stay in your house?” asked prosecution lawyer Eric Iverson.
“They stayed inside the house for enough time to loot everything, destroy the windows, and commit other violent acts,” replied the witness.
Under cross-examination by defense lawyer Aime Kilolo-Musamba, the witness stated that it was her neighbor’s guard who told her that it was the Banyamulenge who looted property from 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.”
Testifying for the second day, ‘witness 110’ told the trial that the Central African civilians who collaborated with Mr. Bemba’s soldiers included porters, guards, and shoe shiners. According to the witness, the shoe shiners had migrated from the DRC to the 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.
‘Witness 110’ also 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, adding that the Congolese soldiers confiscated bedding from civilians’ homes.
On Monday, the defense will continue cross-examining ‘witness 110.’