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Witness Says MLC General Took Direct Orders From Bemba

A prosecution witness today stated that war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba gave direct orders to his troops who were deployed in the Central African Republic (CAR) during 2002 and 2003.

‘Witness 173’ told the trial of the former Congolese vice president that the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops who were in the CAR were commanded by General Mustafa Mukiza. The witness stated that for some time during the conflict period, he spent time with General Mukiza. He testified that during this time, General Mukiza was in “regular contact” with Mr. Bemba from whom the general took direct orders.

The alleged communication was via cellular and satellite telephone. From testimony heard in open court, it was unclear under what circumstances the witness came to be in General Mukiza’s company.

“I believe they [Bemba and Mustafa] were communicating regularly because Mustafa had to report to him the situation at the battlefront. I believe they were in touch on a daily basis,” said the witness. This was in response to questioning by prosecution lawyer Jean-Jacques Badibanga about the frequency of communication between Mr. Bemba and General Mustafa.

‘Witness 173′ also stated that Mr. Bemba was in regular contact with Central African leaders including then president Ange-Félix Patassé, the minister of defense and the former director of the Presidential Guard. The witness did not say in open court how he obtained this information.

This bit of testimony by this witness seems to undermine Mr. Bemba’s defense that once his troops crossed into the neighboring country, they were no longer under his control but that of Mr. Patassé. A number of prosecution witnesses, including the Central African prosecutor-general, have testified that the MLC troops in the CAR were under the command of Mr. Patassé. The defense’s cross-examination of ‘Witness 173’ today was mainly in closed session.

Meanwhile, earlier today, ‘Witness 173’ was also questioned by lawyers representing victims participating in the trial. Asked by Marie-Edith Douzima-Lawson about the role of Abdoulaye Miskine during the conflict, the witness said the troops under Mr. Miskine worked independently from the MLC but were responsible for numerous killings.

“Half the crimes committed at PK13 (a suburb of the capital Bangui) were committed by Abdoulaye Miskine,”  the witness asserted.

Mr. Miskine commanded a special commando unit outside of the central African army, which was responsible for fighting coup attempts against President Patassé. He reported directly to the president – and his unit has variously been cited by Mr. Bemba’s defense among the many armed groups which could have committed the crimes he is accused of.

Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) charge that Mr. Bemba as commander-in-chief of the MLC is criminally responsible for three crimes against humanity (murder, rape and pillaging) and two war crimes (rape and murder). The crimes were allegedly committed by his troops against Central African civilians between October 2002 and March 2003.

The defense continues its cross-examination of ‘Witness 173’ tomorrow morning.