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Witness: Bemba Held Several Meetings With President Patassé

Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) leader Jean-Pierre Bemba met with former Central African president Ange-Félix Patassé on a number of visits to that country, a witness said today.

The former insider in Mr. Bemba’s militia, who completed his testimony this afternoon, did not give details of these meetings in open court, as most of his cross-examination was conducted in private session.

The prosecution’s ‘Witness 213’ first took the stand in Mr. Bemba’s trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) last Monday. He told the court that the accused, a former Congolese vice president, commanded his troops deployed in the brutal armed conflict in the neighboring Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002 and 2003, from his Congolese residence.

Furthermore, the witness testified that the accused made trips to the battlefield and expressed solidarity with his troops, who prosecutors allege were at the time committing war crimes.

According to the witness, the meetings took place in Point Kilomètre 12 (PK 12), a suburb of the Central African capital Bangui, at Point Kilomètre 22, as well as the towns of Bossembele and Mongoumba. This afternoon, the witness stated that on visits to each of these locations, the accused landed at Bangui airport and then proceeded to Mr. Patassé’s residence before going out to the field.

“He went to Patassé’s residence and they would have a conversation in the house,” said ‘Witness 213’ who was being cross-examined by defense lawyer Peter Haynes. The witness stated that on each visit, Mr. Bemba “spent about 30 minutes” at Mr.
Patassé’s residence.

Faced with a coup attempt, Mr. Patassé invited the MLC to help him beat back the insurgents. Mr. Bemba is on trial for allegedly failing to rein in his soldiers, who prosecutors say brutalized Central African civilians. He has denied the charges, arguing that once his soldiers crossed from Congolese territory, they fell under Mr. Patassé’s command and that it is the former president who should have been on trial for the mass rapes, killings, and looting, which prosecutors say these troops carried out.

Mr. Patassé passed away in April this year before ICC prosecutors had concluded investigations into individuals who could be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity in relation to that conflict.

Most witnesses in this trial, which commenced last November, have testified under pseudonyms. Furthermore, their faces have been shielded from the public and they have been advised not to mention details, such as their occupations, places of work, and names of colleagues and family members. This is because it is feared that if their identities were known to the public, they could face reprisals from certain members of the public for testifying in the trial.

Hearings in the trial continue next Monday with the testimony of a new witness going by the pseudonym ‘Witness 69.’

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