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Bemba Saw Corpses But Said Nothing to His Soldiers

A witness today said that there were several civilian corpses along the roads that Jean-Pierre Bemba took to visit his troops stationed in the Central African Republic (CAR). However, he said the war-crimes accused did not speak about the corpses, or the need for discipline, when he addressed his troops.

Yesterday, ‘Witness 213’ told the trial presided over by Judge Sylvia Steiner that Mr. Bemba met his fighters stationed at Point Kilomètre 12, or PK 12, near the Central African capital Bangui, as well as at Point Kilomètre (22), and the towns of Bossembele and Mongoumba. This morning, he testified that there were dead bodies along the roads to all these locations.

“Did Mr. Bemba make any comments that concerned the presence of these bodies along the road?” asked prosecution lawyer Jean-Jacques Badibanga.

“I did not hear him mention these bodies,” replied the witness. He reiterated that Mr. Bemba only encouraged his troops and thanked them for the work they were doing. The witness testified with protective measures, including image and voice distortion as well as the frequent use of private session.

The witness could not give an estimate of the number of dead bodies he saw. He said though that the bodies were for men and women. They wore civilian clothing and there were no weapons besides them.

The witness also testified that goods looted by Mr. Bemba’s troops and transported to Congo were “at the disposal” of different units within the accused’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) political party.

“Before they went to the CAR, they did not have these goods. When they returned, they had these goods,” said the witness. The goods included vehicles and motorbikes, he said.

Mr. Bemba is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for allegedly failing to rein in his fighters who murdered, raped, and pillaged during their stay in the CAR between October 2002 and March 2003. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges, claiming that he had no direct command over those troops and that when he learned of the crimes they were committing, he took firm measures to discipline his fighters.

At the time the troops went to the neighboring country, they were a rebel group fighting to topple the Congolese government. Under a 2003 peace deal, Mr. Bemba became one of the Congolese vice presidents.

The prosecution continues to question ‘Witness 213’ tomorrow morning.