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Witness Questioned About Pictures of Bemba’s Fighters

The defense of war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba on Tuesday questioned the 32nd witness called by prosecutors about photographs he claims to have taken of the accused’s fighters.

Defense lawyer Peter Haynes showed a picture to Cyprien-Francis Ossibouyen and asked him where it was taken from. The witness replied that he took the picture at “Bangui wharf” with the aid of a timer. The picture depicts the witness docking a boat, with a hill and town across the Oubangui River in the background.

Mr. Ossibouyen stated that this hill and town were Zongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Mr. Haynes then presented two other photographs showing the same background and afternoon cloud skyline as the first photograph. The two photographs allegedly showed Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers. Some of the soldiers were surrounded by boxes, while others stood by the edge of a boat.

Mr. Haynes claimed the background in these two photographs was the same Zongo hill seen in the first photograph. Asked where these two photographs were taken, the witness stated that it was in Zongo.

The prosecution last Thursday presented the same photographs as evidence of MLC soldiers loading ammunition cases onto a ferry that Mr. Ossibouyen used to transport them from the DRC to Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR).

“Are you still maintaining that this photograph was taken in Zongo and not Bangui?” asked the defense attorney.

“My concern was the militia. I filmed them in Zongo in the interest of the history we are going through now. I was not filming the mountain or hill,” replied Mr. Ossibouyen.

He maintained that the two photographs, with some of the alleged MLC soldiers facing the camera, were taken without their knowledge using a concealed flash.

Most of the cross-examination of Mr. Ossibouyen was conducted in closed session. Yesterday, this witness expressed concern about the safety of his family although he continued to testify in public.

This afternoon, he stated that during the lunch break, he had made a telephone call to his family and “was provided with the source of the information.” Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner then ordered the hearing into closed session. It was therefore unclear the nature of Mr. Ossibouyen’s concerns.

Mr. Bemba is on trial at The Hague-based International Criminal Court over the alleged murder, rape, and looting committed by the MLC in the CAR during the 2002–2003 armed conflict. Mr. Bemba, the militia’s commander-in-chief, was not in that country at the time but is being held criminally responsible for the alleged crimes. The responsibility stems from his failure to stop or punish his rampaging troops.

The trial continues tomorrow morning, with further cross-examination of Mr. Ossibouyen.