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Witness Told Bemba to Try Errant Soldiers

International Criminal Court (ICC) judges today heard that a former member of war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba’s group advised him to take his soldiers to trial when they were accused of brutalizing civilians.

Although the witness did not disclose his relationship with the former Congolese rebel leader, he stated that he advised Mr. Bemba to take action against soldiers accused of perpetuating rapes, murders, and pillaging against civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR).

The defense today continued to cross-examine ‘Witness 45,’ who concluded his evidence, mainly in closed session. In brief moments of open court, he stated that upon his return from Bangui, the Central African capital, around January 8, 2003, he met with Mr. Bemba. In that meeting, the witness recalled telling the accused that the intervention by the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) in the neighboring country “was not welcome by the population.” It was in that meeting that he pressed Mr. Bemba to try soldiers accused of committing crimes against civilians.

Defense lawyer Peter Haynes presented to court a letter from Mr. Bemba, addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, in which he expressed disapproval of the Congolese soldiers’ alleged violations of human rights in Bangui. In the letter, Mr. Bemba mentioned the arrest of eight soldiers whose behavior had been found contradictory to the MLC’s military code of conduct. The letter was signed, stamped, and dated January 4, 2003. Nothing more was said about this letter in open court.

On Tuesday, ‘Witness 45’ told court that about five or seven MLC soldiers were tried and sentenced to jail terms in trials stage-managed by Mr. Bemba. Those found guilty over crimes committed in the CAR were sentenced to terms of three to six months.

Mr. Bemba is on trial at the ICC for allegedly failing to discipline his soldiers who brutalized Central African civilians during that country’s 2002-2003 armed conflict. He has denied the three war crimes and two crimes against humanity with which he is charged.

Hearings in the trial continue tomorrow morning with the testimony of a new prosecution witness going by the pseudonym ‘Witness 44.’

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