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Central Africans ‘Commanded Joint Operations With MLC’

The trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba has heard that the army of the Central African Republic (CAR) commanded joint operations with troops from the militia led by the accused.

Under cross-examination by the prosecution, a former intelligence officer in the Central African army said such joint operations continued until the fall of President Ange-Félix Patassé in March 2003.

The former officer is testifying in the war crimes trial of Mr. Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC) under the pseudonym ‘Witness D04-07.’ He stated that Central African authorities provided communication devices to the Congolese troops and that the joint operations were coordinated at the Center for Command Operations (CCOP).

Mr. Bemba contends that his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers deployed in the conflict during 2002 and 2003 were not under his command but that of Mr. Patassé, who had invited them to help fight off an insurrection.

Mr. Bemba is charged with three counts of war crimes (rape, murder, and pillaging) and two crimes against humanity (rape and murder). Prosecutors allege that he failed to control or to punish his troops who brutalized civilians.

‘Witness D04-07’ has testified that when Mr. Bemba’s forces joined the conflict, they were integrated into the Central African Armed Forces (FACA), whose leaders provided the foreign troops with FACA uniforms, ranger boots, ammunition, vehicles, and communications equipment.

This afternoon, prosecution lawyer Petra Kneur asked the witness if he was aware that the accused’s fighters crossed from the Democratic Republic of Congo with their own communications devices.

“No,” replied the witness who is testifying with image and voice distortion, as well as the use of private session to protect his identity. He maintained that the Congolese troops and FACA forces communicated on the same radio frequency.

He cited a joint operation to drive rebels led by Francois Bozizé out of Damara town, which took place on November 20, 2002. The witness said this mission was led by FACA General Ferdinand Bombayake, assisted by the MLC contingent commander General Mustafa Mukiza.

This seems to contradict the testimony of Colonel Thierry Lengbe, who last November told judges that Mr. Bemba’s troops operated independently of the Central African army. Testifying for the prosecution, the Colonel, who at the time of the events worked at the CCOP, said, “There was just one operation on the 27th [October 2002] to push back Bozizé’s men beyond PK13. There were no other joint operations.”

Colonel Lengbe also asserted that radio equipment used by FACA could not communicate with that which Mr. Bemba’s fighters took along to the conflict country.

Meanwhile, in excerpts of a communication log, presented by Ms. Kneur in court this afternoon, General Mukiza was quoted as stating that his troops had been “abandoned” by the Central African authorities and that there was no coordination between them and other loyalist forces. Furthermore, that there was a lack of communications equipment to facilitate inter-operations. The communication, addressed to the MLC’s chief of general staff at their headquarters in Congo, was dated October 30, 2002.

“I don’t know how to answer to that,” responded the witness when asked to comment on the log.

‘Witness D04-07’ continues to give testimony on Monday, September 24, at 9.00am.