Despite the existence of a clear hierarchy and chain of command within the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), its commander-in-chief, war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba, could issue direct orders to troops on the ground, the court heard today.
Testifying with protective measures, including face and voice distortion to protect his identity, ‘Witness 33’ gave a brief history of the MLC. According to the witness, Mr. Bemba, with support from the Uganda government, founded the MLC during 1998 in the Congolese city of Kisangani. Initially, the “Movement” was a party, but then its founder recruited young professionals and soldiers to form the body of the “Movement.”
A Political and Military Council was formed as the top authority of the MLC. In addition to the Council, a national executive was named and territorial secretaries appointed.
“The MLC was a well-structured organization with its rules and regulations stipulated in the constitution of the party,” stated ‘Witness 33.’
He said the founder was commander-in-chief, while Colonel Dieudonné Amuli – now a general in the Congolese army – was second in command. There were three deputies to Colonel Amuli.
‘Witness 33’ stated that it was understood within the MLC that orders were issued by Mr. Bemba through Amuli the chief of staff and then lower down the chain of command. However, “in practice that was not always the case.”
“Bemba could skip all stages in the chain of command and give orders directly to soldiers in the field,” said the witness.
“Could the general staff intervene or stop the issue of orders [by Mr. Bemba]?” asked prosecution Lawyer Jean-Jacques Badibanga.
“Not at all,” replied ‘Witness 33.’
According to the witness, Mr. Bemba made all the military decisions concerning the commitment of MLC troops to an operation. High ranking MLC staff simply advised Mr. Bemba on military matters. It was not revealed in open court how ‘Witness 33’ came to know about the inside workings of the MLC.
The witness also described Mr. Bemba as a charismatic leader whose “personal commitment” to the MLC was a source of “great motivation for the troops on the ground.”
Mr. Bemba has denied that he had effective command and control over the MLC as they rampaged in the neighboring Central African Republic (CAR). Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court charge that his soldiers raped, murdered, and plundered while they were deployed in the CAR during 2002 and 2003. Although Mr. Bemba was not physically present in that country at the time, he is being held criminally responsible for the alleged crimes.
In his defense, Mr. Bemba has argued that once the his troops crossed the Congo-CAR border, they fell under the command of then CAR president Ange-Félix Patassé, and it is him that should have been tried.
The trial continues next Monday morning with further testimony from ‘Witness 33.’