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Expert: Central Africans Provided Logistics to Bemba Fighters

Jacques Seara, a retired French army general testifying in the war crimes trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba, today stated that although a communication log tendered by prosecutors showed the accused’s commanders sought supplies from their Congo headquarters, logistics for the force were actually the responsibility of Central African military authorities.

Under cross-examination by prosecution lawyer Eric Iverson, the General who is testifying as a military expert for the defense said there was a lack of stock in the Central African Republic (CAR) and if fighting had to continue, it may have been “necessary” that ammunition came from elsewhere. Most of the cross-examination was conducted in closed session.

Mr. Iverson read out excerpts of a January 2003 radio message from Mustafa Mukiza, the field commander of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops in the conflict country. The message addressed to the group’s chief of staff requested for a large consignment of equipment including sub machine guns, grenades, motors, and ammunition. The message was signed ‘We have faith in the hierarchy.’

“Would your conclusion that CAR authorities were handling logistics be incorrect if the MLC headquarters were supplying ammunition?” asked Mr. Iverson.

“The logistics were taken care of by the CAR authorities. That does not mean that at all times, the stocks and ammunition of the CAR were sufficient to supply all the forces,” replied the expert.

Furthermore, he stated that if the MLC high command indeed met the request for ammunition, which was not indicated in the message, they could not have had the means to deliver it to Congolese troops out in the field without the assistance of Central African authorities.

The expert said, “These quantities, how many tons do you think they are? How many people would be required to move them? Who was going to drive? They had to be unloaded. That is logistics for you.”

General Seara first took the witness stand last Tuesday. In his week-long testimony, he has stated that Mr. Bemba was not in command of his troops who prosecutors allege committed widespread crimes against the civilian population of the CAR. He has also stated that the accused’s troops were provided with military effects, including radio frequency allocations, communications equipment, arms, uniforms, and logistics support by the Central African authorities.

General Seara is the first witness to testify for the former Congolese vice president,who is faced with three war crimes (murder, rape ,and pillaging) and two crimes against humanity (murder and rape) at the International Criminal Court. Prosecutors charge that Mr. Bemba was aware of his troops’ misconduct but did not sanction them.

While acknowledging the presence of his troops in the neighboring country to help forces loyal to then president Ange-Félix Patassé fight off a rebel insurgency led by François Bozizé, Mr. Bemba denies all five charges against him. He argues that the troops were under the direct command of Mr. Patassé.

The cross-examination of General Seara by the prosecution continues tomorrow morning.