While the defense has denied that war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba had control over his forces, who were deployed in the Central African Republic (CAR), a witness today said Mr. Bemba regularly telephoned a commander of his militia in that country.
“He called in the morning, in the afternoon. He called several times,” said the witness who testified with face and voice distortion, as well as the use of a pseudonym in order to protect his identity. However, ‘witness 112’ did not say in open court how he knew that it was Mr. Bemba who regularly called the unnamed Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) commander, who had pitched camp in the compound where the witness lived.
The witness recounted how a group of MLC soldiers arrived at the home where he worked as a guard, assaulted him, looted property, and occupied the house for three months. The house was in the town of Begua.
“When they came to break the house the first time, there were five of them. After breaking in, they alerted others and a greater number came in, about 15 of them,” testified ‘witness 112.’ The soldiers carted away all the property from the house, he said.
Amongst this group of soldiers was a “chief” who occupied the master bedroom in the house. The witness said this chief possessed two telephones, with which he maintained contact with Mr. Bemba.
The witness said, “When he wanted to [make a] call, he used the small [phone]. With the large one, he just received calls.” He also testified that he learned about the telephone conversations between Mr. Bemba and the “chief” as he stayed with the MLC soldiers for 10 days during their occupation of the house, taking care of domestic chores. The witness did not provide in open court any details of the issues allegedly discussed on telephone by Mr. Bemba and his commander in Begua.
Mr. Bemba is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for allegedly having failed to reign in his rampaging soldiers, who prosecutors claim carried out mass rapes, killings, and plunder. Prosecutors charge that Mr. Bemba knew that his forces were committing or about to commit crimes but, as a commander-in-chief, failed to take “all necessary and reasonable measures to prevent or stop crimes” being committed by his forces.
Mr. Bemba has denied all the charges against him, arguing that once his troops crossed the border from the Democratic Republic of Congo into the CAR, they were no longer under his command.
In his testimony today, ‘witness 112’ also told the trial that MLC soldiers killed his wife and ransacked his house. Details of the murder were discussed in private session. In open court, the witness said the MLC took several items from his home, including a radio set, foam mattresses, clothing, a bed, a grinding mill, sewing machine and kitchen utensils. He estimated that the damage caused to his house amounted to 1.5 million Central African Francs (USD 3,254) and the value of the items stolen was 1.7 million CFA (USD 3,700).
“I was impoverished. I no longer have a wife because she was killed by them and so my children and I are suffering because of that,” said the witness when prosecuting lawyer Massimo Scaliotti asked about the effects of the MLC’s abuses on his life.
Legal representatives of victims participating in the trial are due to question ‘witness 112’ tomorrow morning.