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Bemba’s Former Confidant Cross-examined in Closed Session

The cross-examination by the defense of the 37th witness called by prosecutors in the war crimes trial of Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba was on Wednesday conducted in closed session.

The witness, who testified under the pseudonym ‘Witness 45,’ is a former insider in the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC). Prosecutors said in their opening statement that this witness would provide evidence on the “sham” trials arranged by Mr. Bemba to satisfy international demands that he takes action against his undisciplined soldiers.

Mr. Bemba is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over crimes committed by his troops in the Central African Republic during their intervention in that country’s armed conflict in 2002 and 2003. For allegedly failing to rein in his rampaging soldiers, prosecutors charge that Mr. Bemba bears criminal responsibility for the murder, rape, and pillaging perpetuated by his fighters. He denies the charges.

‘Witness 45′ first took the witness stand on Monday. His questioning by the prosecution and lawyers representing victims in the trial was mostly conducted in closed session. In some of his testimony in open court, he testified that the MLC’s high command was “laissez-faire” about implementing the code governing soldiers’ conduct.

He also stated that the few soldiers brought before military tribunals and found guilty of misconduct “stayed in jail for a short while” before being freed once independent observers of their trials left Congo.

The witness also said Mr. Bemba in his capacity as commander-in-chief was “always” in direct contact with his troops and that the accused communicated with commanders via radio, Thuraya satellite phone, and cellular phone.

The trial continues tomorrow morning.