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Central African Colonel Says Bemba Forces Worked Independently

The trial of former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba resumed today after a week’s hiatus, with the prosecution calling a retired colonel from the Central African Republic (CAR) army as their 31st witness.

Joseph Mowondwi testified about the Operations Command Center (CCOP) run by his country’s army and the role it played during the conflict over which Mr. Bemba is on trial. He stated that whereas this center undertook campaigns against insurgents who were attempting to overthrow then president Ange-Félix Patassé, the accused’s forces carried out their own independent operations.

Under questioning by prosecution lawyer Eric Iverson, Mr. Mowondwi stated that the center was initially known as a command post (COP). However, it was renamed the CCOP in late 2002, when Mr. Patassé was faced with an armed insurgency. The center consisted of numerous departments, with officers assembled from numerous military units assigned to “manage the crisis.”

Mr. Mowondwi, who is also known as ‘Witness 151,’ served as the liaison officer at the center during 2002 and 2003, when it coordinated all activities of Central African armed forces. The center was located at Camp Beyale, where the national defense ministry, the office of the bureau of the military commander, the army commander, and military logistics services also had their headquarters.

He explained: “The CCOP was part of the army command. Its central duty was to send troops off…when there was a security problem within the country, the unit was in charge of preparing all the various administration arrangements to be made, as well as logistics.”

It was during the rebel insurgency that Mr. Patassé invited Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops to prop up his loyalist forces. Mr. Mowondwi asserted that when the Congolese forces arrived in the Central African capital Bangui, they set up their base at Point Kilomètre 12 (PK 12) and “worked independently.”

However, he added that no MLC staff participated in the planning, operations, transmissions, or other departments of the CCOP. According to the witness, “All members were Central African soldiers.”

Mr. Bemba is charged with three counts of war crimes (rape, murder, and pillaging) and two crimes against humanity (rape and murder) at the International Criminal Court. Prosecutors allege that as MLC commander-in-chief, he failed to stop or punish his troops as they rampaged against Central African Civilians. He has denied the charges, stating that once the troops left Congo, they were no longer under his command but that of Mr. Patassé.

The prosecution continues questioning Mr. Mowondwi tomorrow morning.