In his concluding evidence, the 30th prosecution witness in the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba said it was unlikely that the accused briefed his troops ahead of their deployment in the Central African Republic (CAR), advising them that whoever they found in the combat zone should be considered an “enemy.”
Prosecutors allege that prior to their deployment, Mr. Bemba told his fighters: “It is not your country. In that country there are no parents or big brothers or sisters. When you get there, what I am asking you to do, anyone you encounter in the combat zones will be an enemy.”
During cross-examination, defense counsel Nkwebe Liriss asked ‘Witness 65’ whether he was aware that such a briefing took place.
The witness replied, “As far as I know, troops crossed over to Bangui in stages. We were obliged to inform all operations commanders of a visit of any kind from the president in order to take the necessary security measures. Therefore if there had been such an assembly, the base would have been informed.”
The witness denied knowledge of any briefing Mr. Bemba or his former second-in-command, Colonel Dieudonné Amuli, gave to the troops in Zongo town prior to their crossing over to Bangui, the Central African capital. The witness testified with protective measures including image and voice distortion.
According to the prosecution, the alleged briefing Mr. Bemba gave to his troops encouraged them to brutalize civilians. As their commander-in-chief, he is being held accountable for those brutalities, which allegedly included murders, rapes, and pillaging. He has denied all charges against him.
A former insider in Mr. Bemba’s militia, ‘Witness 65’ today affirmed that only information of a general nature about the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops deployed in the CAR was given to the accused by his commanders who were in that country.
According to statements ‘Witness 65’ made to investigators of the International Criminal Court (ICC), excerpts of which were read out in court by the defense counsel, General Mustafa Mukiza who commanded the Congolese troops deployed in the Central African campaign only “informed the base [MLC headquarters] of general news.” This news included the number of enemy and MLC troops killed or injured, prisoners taken, the status of equipment, and the morale of officers.
“Who were the reports on general news intended for?” asked Mr. Nkwebe.
“Very often all commanders of units would get in touch with the general headquarters and send a copy [of the message] for information purposes to President Bemba,” replied the witness.
The messages from General Mustafa read out in court were dated from November 2002 to January 2003. General Mustafa commanded the MLC troops deployed in the neighboring country to assist its then president Ange-Félix Patassé beat back insurgents who were fighting to oust him.
There are now ten remaining witnesses who will testify before the prosecution closes its case.
There will be no hearings in the trial next week. Hearings will resume on Monday, October 17.