A military officer from the army of the Central African Republic (CAR), who is testifying for the prosecution, stated today that Jean-Pierre Bemba’s senior commander in that country punished some soldiers who were accused of indiscipline.
Colonel Thierry Lengbe told the trial at the International Criminal Court that during the time he spent at the center that commanded operations against insurgents, he received reports of indiscipline by some of Mr. Bemba’s fighters. He forwarded all these complaints to General Mustafa Mukiza, who headed the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) contingent, and to General Mukiza’s deputy, Captain René Abongo.
In one looting incident against a customs officer and his wife, General Mustafa “whipped” the MLC soldiers implicated, and returned the property – a telephone handset – to its owners. Another case reported to the Colonel was that of the occupation and looting of the home of a magistrate called Flavien Mbata. The Colonel said this grievance was never resolved. Last June, Mr. Mbata testified in the Bemba trial and spoke about the forced occupation of his house by MLC soldiers and the crimes these fighters allegedly committed in his neighborhood.
Colonel Lengbe testified that Mr. Bemba’s soldiers occupied and looted civilian homes. During the one month between the Congolese solders’ arrival and Colonel Lengbe’s fleeing into exile to Cameroon, he said he received a number of reports of abuses but no rape cases were reported to him.
The Colonel, who was an assistant to the army chief of staff at the time, set up the Center for Command Operations (CCOP) to coordinate military operations against the rebels.
Mr. Bemba has argued that any of the armed forces which were involved in the conflict during 2002 and 2003 could have committed the crimes which prosecutors allege were committed by his fighters. He also argues that once his troops crossed into the neighboring country, they were no longer under his control but that of Central African authorities. He denies prosecution claims that he knew his soldiers were carrying out rapes, murders and pillaging, but chose not to punish them.
The trial continues tomorrow morning with further testimony from Colonel Lengbe.