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Former Patassé Aide Concludes Testimony in Bemba Trial

Prosper Ndouba, the fourth witness to testify in the defense of Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, today completed giving evidence at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Mr. Ndouba, the former spokesperson to Ange-Félix Patassé, the late president of the Central African Republic (CAR), reiterated his earlier testimony that rebel forces led by François Bozizé committed crimes as they fought to overthrow Mr. Patassé.

The witness, who started testifying last Thursday, recounted his capture by the Bozizé rebels, who held him captive for 38 days. During that time, he witnessed tortures, looting, killing, and rape by the rebels.

The former spokesperson also stated that the Bozizé rebels were the only armed group in the country’s capital Bangui at the time of his abduction. He said the local population was “terrorized” and “frightened” when the rebels occupied their neighborhoods.

This afternoon, under questioning by victims’ lawyer Assingambi Zarambaud, Mr. Ndouba asserted that no Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops were present in Bangui at the time of his abduction. He said he first encountered MLC troops on December 1, 2002 upon his release. The Congolese forces had set up checkpoints along the road leading to Bangui.

The witness also said he was not aware of any crimes or abuses committed by Mr. Bemba’s troops because he did not have access to radio news reports during the 38 days he was held hostage. Within a few days of returning to Bangui in December 2002, he traveled to the United States and thereafter to France.

He said the Bozizé rebels lacked supplies and as a result looted shops, farms, and households in Bangui and its neighborhoods. “I saw them do that,” he said.

In October 2002, Mr. Bemba, the MLC commander-in-chief, sent his troops to the neighboring country to assist Patassé’s loyalist forces beat back the Bozizé rebellion. The rebels captured power in March 2003. Mr. Bemba is on trial for allegedly failing to control or punish his troops as they allegedly raped, killed, and looted against civilians during their five month presence in the conflict country.

The former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo has denied all five charges against him. He argues that any of the numerous armed groups active in the 2002-2003 armed conflict could have committed the crimes he has been charged with.

The testimony of Mr. Ndouba seems to undermine that of prosecution witnesses who testified about crimes committed in Bangui, purportedly by the accused’s fighters, as early as October 25, 2002. These witnesses identified the perpetrators as members of the accused’s militia primarily because they spoke the Congolese language Lingala.

Yesterday, Mr. Ndouba stated that some of the Bozizé rebels spoke Lingala “so that they would be taken for MLC troops and not rebels.”

Today, prosecution lawyer Petra Kneur asked the witness whether, given his personal feelings toward Mr. Bozizé following his abduction and subsequent loss of his job, he was impartial and objective.

Mr. Ndouba answered that it was only “human” that he has hard feelings toward the current CAR president. However, he added that his testimony is a true account of the events as he experienced them.

The trial continues tomorrow morning with the testimony of a new defense witness going by the in-court pseudonym D04-07.