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Witness Unsure Whether Pillagers Were Bemba’s Soldiers

War crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba’s defense today challenged the evidence of Flavien Mbata, a Central African judicial official testifying in his trial at the International criminal Court (ICC). Ultimately, the witness conceded that he was not sure whether the soldiers who pillaged his home belonged to the accused’s group.

Mr. Mbata, who started testifying on Monday, has told the trial presided over by Judge Sylvia Steiner that soldiers belonging to Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) forcefully occupied his house when they arrived in the Point Kilomètre 12 (PK 12) neighborhood in November 2002.

Under cross-examination by defense lawyer Aime Kilolo-Musamba, Mr. Mbata today asserted that the facts relating to the occupation of his home were given to him by individuals referred to in court as ‘Peter’ and ‘Mary.’

When the ICC opened investigations into the crimes committed in the Central African Republic (CAR), Mr. Mbata submitted to a court investigator documents he says he found on the floor of his bedroom, which were allegedly authored by the MLC. He also gave the court official – referred to in court as ‘Francoise’- the statements made by ‘Peter’ and ‘Mary’ to the local police regarding the occupation of his house. The witness also handed ‘Francoise’ a list of items looted from his home and details of the damage caused to his house.

Mr. Mbata, a senior lawyer who is giving evidence via video link from the CAR capital Bangui, testified that he asked the Gendarme, or local police, to interview ‘Peter’ and ‘Mary’ “in order to complete the case file” on the occupation and looting of his home.

“Are we therefore to understand that your evidence is made up of the report you signed in 2008 – five years after the facts, the interview reports of ‘Peter’ and ‘Mary’ – interviews that were conducted at your request and the reports of which were drawn up more than five years after the events, and documents you allege belong to the MLC?” asked Mr. Kilolo-Musamba.

“Yes, that is correct,” replied Mr. Mbata.

The witness explained that since he was personally not at his home when it was invaded, he could not tell who actually pillaged it. However, after the intruders withdrew, he was able to recover beds, a chandelier, garden furniture, and a cupboard. Young men in the neighborhood informed Mr. Mbata that his car had been abandoned around Point Kilomètre 11 (PK 11), so he was also able to recover it too.

“Is it true that you were unable to identify who would have tried to steal or pillage this car?” the defense lawyer asked.

“I was not able to identify [who took the vehicle], but this vehicle was on the compound. Surely it was the people who occupied the compound who would have tried to steal it,” replied Mr. Mbata. “But as I said, I was not in the area, I can’t give you any other clarification.”

Mr. Bemba is being tried over his alleged failure to stop or punish his troops as they raped, murdered, and pillaged in the CAR between October 2002 and March 2003. The troops were in the country to help its then president Ange-Félix Patassé fight off a coup attempt led by François Bozizé, who had been sacked as army chief of staff. Mr. Bozizé is the current president of the country.

Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has denied all charges against him, stating that once his troops left Congo, they were no longer under his command. Besides, he has argued that any of the several armed groups that were active in the CAR at the time could have committed the crimes which ICC prosecutors claim were committed by his fighters.

The defense will continue cross-examining Mr. Mbata tomorrow.