A witness today stated that there were Rwandan nationals among the soldiers belonging to war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba’s group deployed in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002.
The witness, who is testifying with voice and image distortion, as well as the use of the pseudonym, ‘witness 209’ in order to protect his identity, has been giving evidence for two weeks. Most of the questioning was conducted in closed session.
In the few moments of open session today, defense lawyer Peter Haynes asked the witness about the nationalities of the armed forces present in the Central African town of Damara after December 10, 2011.
“There was a group of Rwandans,” replied 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 Sseko 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).
In his May 26 testimony, ‘witness 209’ asserted that Mr. Bemba’s troops were the only armed group present in Damara between December 2002 and February 2003. “The first soldiers to occupy Damara were General [Francois] Bozizé’s troops. Between 7th December 2002 to February 2003, there were no other troops [besides MLC],” stated the witness.
In his earlier testimony a fortnight ago, this witness also described the widespread pillaging allegedly carried out by the MLC in Damara. “Different articles were pillaged. Clothing, bedding, they also took motorbikes and electric generator [sets]… they actually emptied my house.”
Mr. Bemba, a former Congolese vice president, is on trial at the International Criminal Court for allegedly failing to control his private militia members as they rampaged in the CAR between October 2002 and March 2003. He has pleaded not guilty to two crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three counts of war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging).
The trial is scheduled to continue tomorrow morning.