A witness in the trial of former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba today told judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) that the commander of the Central African presidential guard killed his brother using a helicopter gunship supplied by the Libyan government.
“It was [General Ferdinand] Bombayake who killed my elder brother in the ambulance that was transporting him…it was bombed by Bombayake,” said the witness, who was testifying with face and voice distortion as well as the use of the pseudonym ‘witness 209.’ He did not state in open court under what circumstances his brother came to be injured to necessitate his evacuation by the ambulance.
Mr. Bombayake led the United Presidential Security during the 2002-2003 conflict in the Central African Republic (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.
Under cross-examination by defense lawyer Peter Haynes, ‘witness 209′ described how for nearly two months, between October and December 2002, the Central African town of Damara was shelled “every two or three days” by a Libyan aircraft flown by General Bombayake. At the time, Mr. Bozizé’s rebel forces occupied the town. The witness said that it was in one such bomb raid that his elder brother was killed by the gunship.
According to evidence previously heard in the trial, a judicial probe by CAR authorities found that the presidential guard led by Mr. Bombayake was the only one of the Central African military units that worked with Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) while they were in the country.
According to the top Central African prosecutor and the judge who received the findings of the inquiry and then conducted his own probe, 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 ended in Mr. Bozizé’s victory in March 2003.
The trial presided over by Judge Sylvia Steiner has previously heard from the CAR Prosecutor–General, Firmin Feindiro, who stated that his inquiry found that Mr. Patassé coordinated the military operations against the insurgents. “When an offensive or counter-offensive was organized, it was the president that organized it…This has been borne out by General Bombayake, who maintained that it was Patassé who decided on everything and that he [Bombayake] would only implement the instructions received,” Mr. Feindiro’s report said.
Prosecutors charge that as commander-in-chief of the MLC, Mr. Bemba failed to control his troops as they allegedly raped, murdered, and plundered Central African civilians during the 2002-2003 conflict. He has denied the charges.
The defense continues its cross-examination of ‘Witness 209’ tomorrow morning.