A former army officer in the Central African Republic (CAR) says war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba’s troops did not carry out joint operations with the national army during their deployment in that country in 2002 and 2003. But he added that the accused’s troops regularly received intelligence information from Central African military authorities.
Joseph Mokondoui, who worked with the presidential guard before being seconded to the Operations Command Center (CCOP) run by his country’s army, affirmed today that there were no joint operations between the national army and Mr. Bemba’s troops throughout the conflict period.
However, he said that a deputy to General Mustafa Mukiza– the overall commander of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops deployed in the country – routinely went to the command center to pick intelligence reports.
At the time, the center received messages from all military departments involved in fighting rebels who were attempting to grab power from then CAR president Ange-Félix Patassé. The witness said on the basis of messages received by the center, various liaison officers and section heads at the CCOP would meet and draw up a combat strategy.
During cross-examination, defense lawyer Aime Kilolo-Musamba asked whether Mr. Bemba’s troops, who were fighting on the side of government forces, took part in briefing meetings at the command center. He also asked whether the MLC soldiers were privy to all messages received by the CCOP from its various units. The witness replied in the negative.
“Those messages were intended for us. If there were any messages on field operations, it was up to us to pass them on to other Central African soldiers in the field but not to the Congolese troops,” he said. “There was no collaboration. That information only concerned the Central African side.”
Mr. Mokondoui, who started testifying on Monday, earlier told the trial that whereas this center undertook campaigns against the insurgents, the accused’s forces carried out their own independent operations. He served as the liaison officer at the CCOP during 2002 and 2003, when the center coordinated all activities of Central African armed forces.
The witness said General Mustafa’s deputy collected intelligence briefs from a particular office within the complex where the CCOP was located. However, he did not say in open court what this office was. Part of today’s cross-examination was done in private session. This was because the defense was making numerous references to a document obtained from the prosecution, which was classified as confidential. This prompted the intervention of presiding judge Sylvia Steiner.
“If we are going to read line by line and name by name, we are as matter of fact re-classifying the level of confidentiality and I wouldn’t like [you] to do that without consulting the prosecution,” stated the judge.
Prosecution lawyer Petra Kneur said whereas the first name on the document did not require redactions, the next four names did. “And it appears the rest of the document should remain classified as confidential,” she said, and the hearing went into closed session.
Mr. Kilolo-Musamba also read out an extract from Mr. Mokondoui’s statement to prosecution investigators, in which he stated that he had never heard that the command center had informed the Central African army high command of any misbehaviour by the Congolese forces.
In the statement, the witness is quoted as saying, “The cases referred to by the operational command post related to normal activities of troops on the ground, for example they could send a message to give the position of friendly troops or enemy troops, or they could ask for reinforcements or re-supplies.”
While the witness today recalled making this statement to investigators, he repeatedly stated that even when he was talking to the investigators, he had difficulty recalling the exact details from the conflict period.
Some of the previous witnesses have testified that the presidential guard – to which Mr. Mokondoui belonged – was the only one of the Central African military units which worked with the MLC while they were deployed in the neighboring country. Some witnesses have said the presidential guard gave operational orders to Mr. Bemba’s forces, while others have claimed that the commands for the Congolese troops came directly from the accused.
Mr. Bemba is on trial for allegedly failing to stop or to punish his soldiers, who prosecutors say carried out mass rapes, killings and plunder in the CAR. He denies all five charges against him.
The trial continues tomorrow morning