Prosecutors today called a witness who described meetings between Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba and his soldiers, in which the war crimes accused allegedly expressed solidary with his undisciplined troops.
A former insider in Mr. Bemba’s militia, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), described incidents where the accused met with his fighters at Point Kilomètre 12, or PK12, near the Central African capital Bangui, as well as at Point Kilomètre (22), Bossembele and Mongoumba.
“He spoke to the soldiers who were by the road leading to Cameroon. He congratulated them for the work they had carried out. He boosted their morale and expressed his support for them,” said ‘Witness 213,’ who commenced his testimony today, with his face and voice distorted from the public in order to protect his identity. He recalled that the accused told his troops that he continued to monitor them from his Congolese base, and that “he never abandoned his soldiers.”
The places where the witness said the accused addressed his soldiers are some of the areas where prosecutors claim Mr. Bemba’s militia carried out rapes, murders and pillaging in the Central African Republic (CAR) during 2002 and 2003.
Mr. Bemba has denied that he had effective command and control over his troops once they crossed the Congolese border, arguing that they then fell under the command of Central African authorities. His fighters were in that country to assist its then president, Ange-Félix Patassé, fight off an armed rebellion.
The witness described meetings called “in preparation” for operations in the CAR, saying the first involved the accused and the Central African defense minister. He said this meeting took place in Gbadolite, the Congolese town where the accused’s militia had its headquarters.
The witness said “financial issues” were discussed in this meeting, but the hearing then reverted to closed session, making it impossible to hear any details.
‘Witness 213’ said Mr. Bemba convened another meeting where he ordered his officers to assemble troops, prepare intelligence, military equipment and operational plans for the Central African mission.
“He told the chief of staff officers that there would be reinforcements from Tripoli to Gbadolite,” recounted the witness, who recalled that the reinforcements, which arrived from Libya’s capital Tripoli over a three-day period, included weapons, ammunition, and fighter planes.
The witness also testified that a third meeting took place in the Congolese town of Zongo “the same day that the troops crossed into the CAR,” and the purpose of this meeting was for Mr. Bemba to “boost” the morale of soldiers and “give the order to move through to Bangui.” Further details of this meeting were also given in closed session.
In open court, the witness stated that the meeting took place in a hangar at Zongo airfield, and that between 2,500 and 3,000 MLC troops were assembled. He said General Dieudonné Amuli and Mustafa Mukiza, two senior commanders in the accused’s group, attended this meeting.
Asked by prosecution lawyer Jean Jacques Badibanga whether there were other meetings that took place as part of the planned Central African operations, the witness replied: “These [other] meetings took place at his [Bemba’s] residence and we did not have access to his residence.”
The trial continues tomorrow morning with further testimony from ‘Witness 213.’