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Central African Army ‘Had Duty to Discipline Bemba Fighters’

Military expert Jacques Seara has said military authorities of the Central African Republic (CAR) had the obligation to discipline Jean-Pierre Bemba’s soldiers who fought alongside them.

The expert, who was testifying for the defense, said because the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) fighters were under the charge and jurisdiction of Central African commanders, it was them who should have disciplined the fighters.

Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) charge that even though Mr. Bemba was based in Congo at the time of the conflict, it was his duty to discipline and he had the means to discipline his fighters who allegedly committed atrocities in the neighboring country. He is on trial for allegedly having failed, as a commander, to rein in his rampaging forces. He denies the charges.

“The Chief of General Staff of the Central African forces had powers to take such [disciplinary] measures,” General Jacques Seara stated during redirect examination by defense lawyer Aime Kilolo-Musamba. Mr. Kilolo-Musamba had asked whether Colonel Mustafa Mukiza, who commanded the deployed Congolese forces, had “the ultimate responsibility for disciplinary measures in any cases where disciplinary offenses may have occurred in CAR.”

Mr. Kilolo-Musamba also asked the expert which court should have undertaken legal proceedings in regard to crimes the MLC may have committed in the conflict country. The expert responded that there was no defined position on this matter prior to the arrival of the Congolese troops on Central African territory. In this situation, he said, the chief of staff of the CAR armed forces should have consulted his defense and justice ministers to make a determination.

General Seara added, “It appears there was some agreement for those soldiers to be sent back to the DRC to be tried there, so someone gets the impression Central African authorities didn’t want to try them,” he added.

However, General Seara told the trial that there are two documents lacking in court records, which would have helped to establish some contested or unknown issues. The first is an archive of the operational orders that were issued by the Central African military’s Center for Command Operations (CCOP), the body that spearheaded the government campaign against insurgents.

The second is the log or register of daily activities of the operation. The expert explained that such an archive would have comprised – among others – a daily recording of the number of orders given, wounded persons and the units they belonged to, and particular reports of incidents, including possibilities of crimes that may have been committed.

“If those two documents were available, they would have been a significant contribution to establishing what happened in operations and what happened outside the scope of operations on a day-to-day basis,” said General Seara. He also noted, “If such things were put down in such a logbook, we would see what measures had been taken by the operations command center to deal with such incidents … but we really don’t know, we’re at a loss here.”

The General, who has testified since Tuesday last week as the first defense witness, completed his testimony today. He has told the trial presided over by judge Sylvia Steiner that Mr. Bemba did not have the means to command or control his troops who were on the Central African frontline.

The trial resumes on Monday, September 3, 2012.