The 26th witness to testify for the prosecution in the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba today conceded that he did not observe or hear any communication between Mr. Bemba and officials of the Central African military.
Under cross-examination by the defense, the witness testified that the information he provided regarding the alleged collaboration between leaders of the Central African Republic (CAR) presidential guard and Mr. Bemba’s soldiers was obtained from secondary sources.
In his previous testimony, ‘Witness 173’ has recounted numerous atrocities allegedly committed by the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), the group which was founded and led by the accused. The witness also told the trial presided over by Judge Sylvia Steiner that the accused was in regular contact with General Mustafa Mukiza –the commander of the MLC troops who were deployed in the neighboring country during the 2002-2003 conflict.
Moreover, the witness testified yesterday that the accused was in regular contact with CAR leaders, including then president Ange-Félix Patassé, the minister of defense and the former director of the presidential guard.
“Did you hear the exchanges between Mr. Bemba and the minister of defense of the CAR?” defense counsel Aimé Kilolo-Musamba asked the witness.
“No,” replied the witness.
Asked the same question with regard to communication between Mr. Bemba and the Central African army chief of staff, ‘Witness 173’ again replied in the negative. He testified with protective measures including voice and image distortion, and gave most of his testimony in closed session in order to protect his identity.
In his earlier testimony, ‘Witness 173’ also stated that officers of the Central African presidential guard shared military intelligence with Mr. Bemba’s soldiers. Today, Mr. Kilolo-Musamba asked how the witness came to know about such co-operation. The witness responded that he got this information from some unnamed MLC leaders. He added he did not have contact with the presidential guard.
Mr. Bemba does not deny that he sent his troops to the CAR, but refutes claims that he was their commander while they were in that country. He argues that the troops were under the direct command of Mr. Patassé and received orders through the presidential guard.
Since November 2010, Mr. Bemba has been trial for failing to sanction his fighters who allegedly carried out mass rapes, killings and plunder. The Congolese troops had been invited by Mr. Patassé to help him stave off a coup attempt led by his sacked army chief of staff Francois Bozizé.
The cross-examination of ‘Witness 173’ continues tomorrow morning.