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Bemba Took Looted Vehicles

War crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba took vehicles that his men had looted from civilians, a witness said today.

Testifying for the second day at the trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), ‘Witness 178’ said he could not understand why an “intellectual” like Mr. Bemba failed to stop his soldiers from committing rapes and murders, yet he was aware they were committing these crimes.

“It was within his power to use the Thuraya [satellite phone] to call and say ‘stop what you are doing’ and yet those people did all that with impunity,” stated the witness in reference to Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) fighters. “So I say he participated fully in the rapes, the pillaging, the killings in the Central African Republic because he didn’t on a single occasion open his mouth to tell people to stop those things.”

The former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) stands accused of taking no action as his fighters brutalized CAR civilians during 2002 and 2003. He has denied all five charges against him.

The witness also stated that Mr. Bemba’s top commander in the Central African Republic (CAR) gave the MLC leader vehicles that had been looted. He did not say how many vehicles they were. Prosecuting attorney Jean-Jacques Badibanga asked whether Mr. Bemba knew that these were looted vehicles.

The witness replied, “Where would Mustafa have found the vehicles? When he left the DRC he had nothing, then all of a sudden he has large vehicles. How else would he have got those vehicles if they had not been looted? What he [Bemba] should have done was to say ‘I don’t like those vehicles, take them back to the CAR’ but what he did, he took those vehicles in that compound.”

‘Witness 178’ testified that only Mr. Bemba issued orders to General Mustafa Mukiza, who was the overall commander of the MLC troops who were in the neighboring country. He said then Central African president Ange-Félix Patassé, on whose side the Congolese troops fought, had no “power” to give them orders.

The witness offered a possible explanation of why Mr. Bemba did not act to stop the brutalities: “I understand he did not come to the CAR to help the people of the CAR…what he came to do actually was to enrich himself on the backs of the CAR people, to equip himself for his rebellion.”

The trial continues tomorrow with more testimony from ‘Witness 178,’ who is testifying with his face shielded from the public and his voice distorted in order to keep his identity secret.