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Bemba Trial Adjourns as Witness Reported Unable to Continue Testimony

Jean-Pierre Bemba’s trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) today stalled when the witness who was testifying was deemed unable to continue giving evidence. It was not revealed in open court why he was unable to proceed with his testimony.

At the resumption of hearings after the lunch break, presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner announced that there was a “problem” although she did not provide any details. “Let’s wait for the witness to come in and express himself,” said the judge.

Once the witness entered the courtroom, the hearing went into closed session. When the courtroom turned back into public session, Judge Steiner adjourned the trial until tomorrow morning “taking into account the physical and mental state of the witness.” She did not elaborate.

Cyprien-Francis Ossibouyen, who has been testifying since last Thursday, is the 32nd witness to testify for the prosecution since the start of the trial last November. Prosecutors charge that soldiers belonging to Mr. Bemba’s personal militia – the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC)  – carried out rape, murder, and plunder against Central African civilians in 2002 and 2003.

The militia was in the country to help its president at the time, Ange-Félix Patassé, fight off a coup attempt. Mr. Bemba, who has been in the court’s detention since 2008, has denied all five charges he is facing.

On Monday this week, the witness expressed concern over the safety of his family but did not give the details of his concerns in open court. He is testifying in public without any protective measures. Among others, Mr. Ossibouyen has said he witnessed two incidents where MLC fighters gang-raped Central African women.

Defense lawyer Peter Haynes has since yesterday cross-examined Mr. Ossibouyen, a former technician with the Central African Republic (CAR) river transport company.

This morning, he questioned the witness about the two occasions on which Mr. Ossibouyen claimed he transported Mr. Bemba and his security detail on a ferry crossing from the Congolese town of Zongo to the Central African capital of Bangui.

Mr. Ossibouyen stated that on the first occasion, he only became aware of who he was transporting through his commanding officer on the ferry. He said the Congolese rebel leader’s security detail fired a number of shots while on the ferry and that a stray bullet grazed the witness on the abdomen.

“Didn’t [the bullet] impede your ability to pilot the boat?” asked Mr. Haynes.

“I was panic stricken. It was my warrant officer who told me to pull myself together and continue,” replied Mr. Ossibouyen, who is also known as ‘Witness 47.’ He added that he used battery liquid from the vessel to stem the bleeding.

“Can you explain to us why throughout the six interviews you had with prosecution investigators, you never once mentioned receiving a bullet wound to the abdomen?” inquired the defense lawyer.

The witness replied, “I think I did speak about it, sometimes court reporters miss things.”

The trial is scheduled to continue tomorrow morning.

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