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Expert Says Bemba Did Not Command Troops in Conflict Country

Today, a military expert testifying in defense of Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba said the accused was not in command of his forces deployed in the 2002-2003 conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR). He said the foreign forces were subservient to the country’s president and commander-in-chief and risked expulsion if they did not obey the president’s orders.

Jacques Seara, a retired brigadier-general of the French army, testified as the first witness in the defense of Mr. Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC). He said it was impossible for the various forces active in the conflict to have had different chains of command, as this would have led to chaos and possible incidents of friendly fire: “I can not see how there could have been several chains of command whereas the objective was one – liberate Bangui and push back the rebel forces to the Chadian border.”

Mr. Bemba stands accused of failing to control his troops, who allegedly massacred, raped, and pillaged during their deployment in the neighboring country. He denies the charges, arguing that he was not in command of the troops. Rather, he contends, then Central African president Ange-Félix Patassé commanded those soldiers.

General Seara has written a report for the court, based on an analysis of documents availed to him by the defense and statements of senior officials in the Central African army and the accused’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC). Most of the officers he interviewed played central roles in the conflict.

The expert’s July 2012 report concludes that Central African authorities issued directives to all loyalist forces active in the conflict. In the report, he sketches the chain of command of these armed groups. While describing the sketch in court this afternoon, he indicated that Mr. Patassé was the commander-in-chief of all the loyalist forces.

These groups included the regular Central African army (FACA), the MLC, the Community of Saharan-Sahel State (CEN-SAD) forces, the presidential guard brigade, private militia forces led by Colonel Abdoulaye Miskine and Paul Barrel, as well as local ethnic militia groups.

According to the expert, the CAR armed forces could not have let the Congolese soldiers conduct operations independently and be perceived as the ones that restored order. “It is a matter of national pride to see the national armed forces involved in operations rather than leave it to a foreign force,” he stated. As such, the Congolese forces could not have conducted any military operations on their own.

General Seara served with the French army for 37 years and has specializations in intelligence, civil-military affairs, training, and command. He also served with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Bosnia-Herzegovina from 2004 to 2006.

The expert also stated today that Mustafa Mukiza, the commander of Congolese troops deployed in the neighboring country, operated “far away from the [Central African] commanders that were commanding all the loyalist forces.” Moreover, General Mukiza “was under the orders of the CAR forces and no one else”.

“He obeyed orders given to him. I do not see how he could have proceeded otherwise, said the expert. “They [MLC] had a role to play. If they had carried it out in their own way, they would have been thrown out.”

General Seara continues to testify tomorrow morning.