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Former MLC Insider Says Bemba Commanded Troops From His Residence

War crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba had a satellite phone at his residence that he used to communicate orders to his commanders, according to testimony heard today from a former insider in the group Mr. Bemba led.

According to the unnamed witness, Mr. Bemba also had a communication center a few meters from his residence from which operators received daily reports via radio about operations in the Central African Republic (CAR) during 2002 and 2003.

Testifying under the pseudonym ‘Witness 213,’ he stated that the accused received reports from his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) commanders in the neighboring country via Thuraya satellite phone and radio. He said Colonel Mustafa Mukiza, who commanded the troops involved in the Central African campaign, “submitted reports” over these channels to Mr. Bemba.

In response to one report, the witness said he overheard Mr. Bemba instruct Colonel Mukiza to kill someone. “It had to do with a person that was arrested. I don’t know if it was a civilian or a soldier,” said the witness. He recalled hearing the accused state, “I do not need this person,” and then ordering the execution. The prosecution’s subsequent questioning on this matter was closed to the public.

‘Witness 213’ also stated that there were other occasions during which he heard the accused issue orders related to the Central African operations. “Sometimes they were orders to progress or maintain positions,” he said, and added that “all orders were carried out” in order to avoid reprisals.

Mr. Bemba has denied that he failed to stop and to punish crimes by his troops who took part in this conflict. He is on trial for allegedly choosing not to discipline his fighters who reportedly carried out gang rapes, mass killings, and looting.

‘Witness 213’ also testified that MLC brigades and battalions stationed in the conflict country were equipped with radio handsets through which they sent and received reports between the frontline and Congo. He said Mr. Bemba had “his own radio” at his residence as well as another located at the militia’s operations office “10 meters” from his residence.

Furthermore, the witness testified that the accused used the radio in his home “often” and only when it failed did he use the one at the operations office. According to the witness, the operations office is “where all information was brought together from the troops in the field” and complied into reports for Mr. Bemba.

“How and in what form did the operators write the reports?” asked prosecution lawyer Jean-Jacques Badibanga.

The witness replied, “In a copy book before submitting it to the president.” He continued that when the MLC fighters withdrew from the CAR, the operations copybooks and transmission registers were gathered and taken to Mr. Bemba’s residence.

The defense starts its cross-examination of ‘Witness 213’ tomorrow morning.