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Witness Describes Pillaging by Bemba’s Troops

A prosecution witness in the war crimes trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba today stated that “no object of value was spared” by rampaging Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers stationed in his neighborhood.

He said the Congolese soldiers looted furniture, kitchen utensils, and other household goods such as radio and television sets. “Even bags used by women to go to the market were seized,” he added.

‘Witness 69’ testified with his image and voice distorted from the public. His testimony was frequently given in closed session.

Yesterday, the witness testified that six armed MLC soldiers raped his wife and sodomized him when they arrived in the town of Begua in the Central African Republic (CAR) during November 2002. Today, he recounted that after these incidents, he and his family fled to Point Kilomètre 22, or PK 22, a town near the country’s capital Bangui.

When they returned three months later, their house had been ransacked. Among the stolen items were a cassava mill, a bicycle, a motorcycle, foam mattresses, and pieces of furniture. “What is for sure, they took a lot,” said the witness.

“How do you know the people who looted your house were the Banyamulenge?” asked prosecution lawyer Thomas Bifwoli, in reference to the term Central Africans used to refer to Mr. Bemba’s fighters.

“I know because when we went to PK 22, those people broke down doors. It wasn’t only my door. It was all doors in Begua,” replied the witness. He said all local inhabitants had deserted the neighborhood, leaving only the Congolese soldiers at their assumed base in the Begua school.

Mr. Bemba is on trial at the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) over the crimes of rape, murder, and looting allegedly committed by his troops during their deployment in the Central African conflict. He denies the charges, which prosecutors claim arose from his failure to control his marauding forces.

‘Witness 69’ also cited the case of a magistrate whose home was looted by the Congolese soldiers. “They came with a lorry and parked it outside his house in order to relieve him of all possessions,” recalled the witness.

He said Mr. Bemba’s fighters pillaged numerous localities including Boali, Sibut, and Bossembélé. All looted items were transported to the Ouibangui riverbank and then across the river into neighboring Congo by canoes, he said.

The witness also said the MLC hunted domestic animals such as chicken, cattle, and sheep for their consumption. “No animal was spared – even dogs. They killed the dogs and ate the dog meat. This was one of their preferred dishes,” said the witness.

‘Witness 69’ continues to testify tomorrow morning.