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Logbooks from Bemba’s militia Examined at Trial

Prosecutors have presented in court various documents they claimed were from the logbooks of war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba’s rebel group, purportedly detailing communications from his commanders deployed in the Central African Republic (CAR).

According to the prosecution, it was standard procedure for any communications made by Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) commanders to be copied to Mr. Bemba, as he was the group’s commander-in-chief. The prosecution’s use of these documents as evidence was apparently intended to show that Mr. Bemba was in direct command of his troops deployed in the CAR, that he was aware of the atrocities his troops were committing, and that he had the means to stop the atrocities but chose not to.

Today, ‘Witness 65,’ who is a former insider in the MLC, continued his testimony from yesterday, giving evidence about messages transmitted during October and November 2002 by officers in Mr. Bemba’s group who were deployed in the neighboring country. He affirmed that each time messages were transmitted to and from an MLC operations center, a carbon copy was sent to Mr. Bemba “for information purposes.”

Prosecution lawyer Jean-Jacques Badibanga presented copies of different communication logs he said were made by MLC officers. He asked ‘Witness 65′ to explain what the documents were communicating. He also asked the witness to elaborate on the abbreviations and codes used in the communications. Some of the codes referred to the urgency of messages, while some referred to titles of military officers, and others to ammunition types, the witness said.

In one document dated October 26, 2002, an MLC sector commander transmits: “One contingent of 150 soldiers is crossing over to Bangui under the command of Captain René Abongo. The soldiers have met the necessary requirements for a combatant.” Bangui, the capital of the CAR, is where most of the MLC troops were deployed.

Another transmission purportedly made on October 29, 2002 from the MLC command headquarters in Bangui reads, “Enemy situation: 25 dead and three Chadians captured. Arms recovered: 15 SMGs [sub-machine guns] and four large vehicles.”

Subsequent questioning of the witness about the transmissions was carried out in closed session. Thus, it was not clear what point the prosecution was trying to make by presenting these communications.

The trial has previously heard that Chadian nationals were fighting alongside François Bozizé, who led insurgents that eventually overthrew CAR president Ange-Félix Patassé in March 2003.

During 2002 and 2003 rebels led by Mr. Bozizé who were advancing from the CAR-Chad border threatened the Patassé regime. The embattled president sought Mr. Bemba’s assistance to fight off the coup attempt.

Prosecutors allege that Mr. Bemba’s ill-trained and undisciplined troops deployed on Central African territory carried out rapes, murders, and plunder. They claim also that whereas Mr. Bemba was aware of the brutalities his troops were committing, he did nothing to rein them in.

Although the defense acknowledges MLC troops were deployed in the CAR, Mr. Bemba denies all charges against him. He argues that once his troops crossed into Central African territory, he did not have direct communication with them as they then fell under the command of Mr. Patassé.

In the trial of former Congolese rebel leader Thomas Lubanga, trial judges admitted into evidence a logbook containing a record of radio communications between the headquarters and the field staff of the rebel group Mr. Lubanga is said to have commanded.

Prosecutors claimed that the logbook showed “effective internal communication” within Mr. Lubanga’s group, as well as “knowledge on the part of the accused of the underlying facts constituting the charges and his ability to know about the crimes, through recorded messages which, on occasion, he received directly or by way of copies.”

Lawyers representing victims participating in the trial, as well the defense, also questioned ‘Witness 65’ today, but all of their questioning was done in closed session.

The defense will continue to cross-examine ‘Witness 65’ tomorrow morning.