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Bemba Defense Claims Witness Statements Contradict Expert’s Report

Today, Congolese war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba’s defense questioned a military expert about the statements of two witnesses who testified that the accused’s troops deployed in the Central African Republic (CAR) conflict fell under the command of that country’s authorities.

General Daniel Opande, a Kenyan military expert who started testifying on Tuesday, wrote a report on military structures and command responsibility in the context of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) operations in the 2002-2003 Central African armed conflict. Prosecutors have submitted his report as part of their evidence.

According to excerpts from the statements of two witnesses going by the pseudonyms ‘Leonard’ and ‘Marcel,’ the accused told his troops that they had been placed under the command of CAR authorities. They stated that these instructions were issued both before the Congolese soldiers left their base and when Mr. Bemba visited the Central African capital Bangui.

‘Marcel’ was also quoted as saying that Mustafa Mukiza, who commanded the Congolese troops during their expedition in the conflict country, received orders from the Central African chief of staff. Both ‘Marcel’ and ‘Leonard’ stated that the MLC’s electronic communication devices only worked in the Congo; as such, they communicated through the CAR military radio network.

At the time, the Congolese troops were allied with forces loyal to that country’s then president, Ange-Félix Patassé, who was battling an armed rebellion that sought his overthrow. Mr. Bemba is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for allegedly failing to control his troops who prosecutors say carried out rapes, murders, and pillaging. He has pleaded not guilty.

‘Leonard’ and ‘Marcel’ are some of the witnesses whose statements General Opande reviewed before writing his report. The General reviewed literature and statements from 11 witnesses – six victims of alleged MLC brutality and five individuals believed to be aware of the group’s military structure and command.

Defense lawyer Aime Kilolo-Musamba contended that the expert’s report, which concluded that Mr. Bemba had direct command of his troops throughout their stay in the conflict country, was mainly based on the evidence of witnesses who didn’t have knowledge of the MLC’s command structure.

On Tuesday, General Opande conceded that there were limitations to his report, as he neither made site visits nor interviewed CAR and MLC officers.

Moreover, it emerged today that prosecutors did not give the expert material pertaining to a Central African national inquiry into individuals deemed culpable for crimes committed during the conflict.

“Are you aware of that [inquiry] and did the prosecution make this material available to you?” asked Mr. Kilolo-Musamba.

“I am not aware of that, and nobody has mentioned that to me until now,” replied General Opande.

As part of the inquiry, Bangui’s Prosecutor-General, Firmin Feindiro, conducted interviews with his country’s military officers who commanded operations during the conflict. Mr. Feindiro testified in the trial last April, and stated that his inquiry found that Mr. Patassé coordinated and commanded the military operations against the insurgents.

“When an offensive or counter-offensive was organized, it was the president that organized it,” Mr. Feindiro’s report said. Furthermore, the top Central African prosecutor stated that he did not find sufficient evidence implicating Mr. Bemba in the crimes committed.

The defense will continue to cross-examine General Opande Friday morning.