Jean-Pierre Bemba’s defense today continued to cross-examine the 28th witness called by the prosecution in his war crimes trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The cross-examination of the witness, a former insider in the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), was mainly conducted in closed session.
In the brief moments of open court, ‘Witness 33’ stated that Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), was of strategic importance to Mr. Bemba’s group, which at the time was a rebel force attempting to capture power from Congolese president Joseph Kabila. Referring to the city as a “rear base,” he said that it was for this reason that the MLC intervened twice to help the government of Ange-Félix Patassé to retain control of that country.
Mr. Patassé was the president of the CAR from 1993 until 2003. In May 2001, he was faced with a coup attempt led by his predecessor, André Kolingba. A second coup attempt led by François Bozizé plunged the country into armed conflict between 2002 and 2003. Mr. Patassé invited Mr. Bemba’s private militia into the CAR to help him fight the insurgents. While the 2001 Kolingba-led coup attempt failed, Mr. Bozizé successfully deposed Mr. Patassé in March 2003.
Prosecutors charge that the MLC, during their second intervention in the neighboring country, raped, murdered, and plundered Central African civilians. As their commander in chief, Mr. Bemba is being held criminally responsible for the alleged crimes.
While acknowledging the presence of his troops in the CAR, Mr. Bemba claims that numerous other armed groups active in the conflict could have committed the alleged crimes. In addition, his defense has argued that once the MLC arrived in the CAR, they fell under the command of Mr. Patassé, who is now deceased.
The trial continues tomorrow afternoon with further cross-examination of ‘Witness 33.’