A prosecution witness today stated that a commander in the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) looted a jeep from the Central Africa Republic (CAR) capital Bangui but was not reprimanded although he openly drove the vehicle at the headquarters of Jean-Pierre Bemba’s group.
However, Mr. Bemba’s defense suggested that the vehicle was a gift to the commander known as Bokolombe from then CAR president Ange-Félix Patassé.
“During the war I don’t know how he [Mr. Patassé] would have turned up where there was gunfire to make a gift to the man who was commanding the forces,” responded ‘Witness 32.’
Defense counsel Aime Kilolo-Musamba asked the witness how he knew Mr. Bokolombe had looted the jeep from Bangui.
“Everyone in Gbadolite was saying so,” answered the witness, referring to the town in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where Mr. Bemba had his headquarters. “Gbadolite is a small town, everyone was saying so,” but he added that the vehicle did not have Central African number plates or any signs to show that it had come from that country.
Mr. Bemba has denied charges by International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors that he failed to stop or punish his soldiers who allegedly raped, murdered, and pillaged. The soldiers had been deployed in the CAR to help its president to fight off a coup attempt.
The witness also described military trials conducted by the MLC in accordance with its code of conduct. However, he claimed that Mr. Bemba handpicked members of the military tribunals and that these members did as he wished.
The defense asked the witness to read out several documents, which it claimed showed that the military trials were conducted by members who were not directly answerable to Mr. Bemba – the commander-in-chief – and that MLC troops on the ground reported not to Mr. Bemba but to the general chief of staff. Other documents tendered by the defense, sections of which the witness was asked to read out, indicated that some MLC soldiers were tried and convicted by the military tribunal over crimes committed in the CAR.
For his part, the witness stated that at the time the MLC were deployed in the neighboring country, he had left Gbadolite. He was therefore not in position to tell how Mr. Bemba reacted when he learned that his soldiers were committing crimes in the CAR.
“During that time I was never in the [DRC], I was never in touch with the authorities in the CAR, and I was myself being hunted [by the MLC],” the witness said. He did not say why he fled Gbadolite but mentioned that his bodyguards remained in the town and provided him with some of the information he gave to prosecution investigators.
The witness denied any knowledge of the MLC’s military command structures during their deployment in the CAR during 2002 and 2003. He said he did not know who headed Mr. Patassé’s presidential unit, was not aware Mr. Patassé had a private militia that directly reported to him, and could not have known who supplied food to the MLC.
The trial is scheduled to continue on Friday this week to hear the testimony of a new witness.