A rape survivor today stated that crimes by soldiers belonging to the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) got worse after they held a meeting with residents of the Central African town they occupied.
‘Witness 69’ added that even after a subsequent visit from their commander-in-chief, war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba, the Congolese soldiers continued to terrorize civilians.
Testifying in the trial of the Congolese senator at the International Criminal Court (ICC), the witness said that a meeting was convened at his local town hall a few days after the arrival of the troops in Begua town. The meeting was attended by the town’s residents and the Congolese troops.
Under questioning by prosecution lawyer Thomas Bifwoli, the witness testified that during the meeting, an unnamed commander said the MLC had “come to work hand in hand” with the locals. However, when a resident castigated the MLC’s brutal behavior, the commander got irritated and left immediately. As a result, “no agreement” was reached and the abuses persisted.
“They continued to loot and ransack houses…looking for well-built houses so that they could install their offices and organize themselves in these well-built houses,” he said.
Mr. Bemba is on trial at the ICC for allegedly failing to enforce discipline among his troops. Prosecutors charge that he is criminally responsible for the widespread murder, rape, and pillaging committed by his troops against Central African civilians between October 2002 and March 2003.
At the time, the troops were in the neighboring country to assist its then president, Ange-Félix Patassé, fight off an armed rebellion. Mr. Bemba has denied all five charges against him. His defense argues that once his troops left Congolese territory, they no longer fell under his direct command but that of Central African authorities.
‘Witness 69’ today testified that Mr. Bemba once visited his troops stationed at the Begua school. He said that after the visit, the soldiers continued to commit crimes. “If he had said during his visit that they should not continue to commit these violent acts and abuses, they would have stopped,” asserted the witness.
The witness testified with protective measures including image and voice distortion in order to protect his identity from the public. He gave most of his testimony in private session.
Meanwhile, this afternoon Mr. Bemba’s defense started to cross-examine ‘Witness 69,’ mainly in closed session.
The defense continues its cross-examination of the witness tomorrow morning.