Prosper Ndouba, the former spokesperson of former Central African Republic (CAR) president Ange-Félix Patassé, has started testifying in the defense of Jean-Pierre Bemba, who is on trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes.
It was Mr. Patassé who invited Mr. Bemba’s soldiers into the 2002-2003 armed conflict when he faced an armed insurrection led by his former army chief François Bozizé.
Mr. Ndouba recounted his abduction by the Bozizé forces and also told judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) about atrocities committed by his captors during the “38 days of hell” when they held him hostage.
“I saw people being tortured and beaten up. I saw looting. I saw massacres,” testified the former spokesperson.
He said he assumed the position of spokesperson and adviser to president Patassé in August 1999. He was in charge of communications, including announcing instructions and decisions from the president, to the Central African people.
Mr. Ndouba said October 25, 2002 was the day his life “was turned upside down.” Two armed men, who he described as “Chadian mercenaries” that spoke “broken French,” ambushed his car in Bangui, the CAR capital. They took him to a gas station on the outskirts of Bangui where they held him for two days without food or drink.
Once the rebels ascertained that he was “a person of interest,” they travelled with the witness through the Bangui suburb of Point Kilomètre 12 (PK 12), Damara town and then to Chad. Mr. Bozizé allegedly ordered his men to ensure nothing unfortunate happened to Mr. Ndouba. As such, he was assigned four rebels to guard him at all times.
“I was subject to mental torture. I have health problems, and during those 38 days I could not take medication,” he said.
Mr. Ndouba said he was released on December 1, 2002 following pressure from the Red Cross and the French government.
In 2001, Mr. Patassé sacked his chief of staff Bozizé, accusing him of complicity in a coup attempt. This prompted Mr. Bozizé, with the backing of Chadians, to start an armed campaign to take over power. The embattled president asked Libya and the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) to help him beat back the insurgency. He was overthrown in March 2003; he died last year.
Mr. Bemba is on trial for allegedly failing to control in his MLC soldiers, who purportedly brutalized Central African civilians during their intervention in the neighboring country. He has denied the rape, murder, and pillaging charges, arguing that once his soldiers crossed from Congolese territory, they fell under Mr. Patassé’s command. He also contends that any of the other armed groups active in the conflict could have committed the alleged crimes.
According to the witness, approximately 400 Bozizé rebels controlled all of Bangui and its immediate neighborhoods during his time of captivity. “There were no other armed men,” he said.
Defense lawyer Peter Haynes asked the witness how the local population reacted to the presence of the rebels. Mr. Ndouba responded that the local population was “terrorized” and “frightened” and hid in their homes. “There was virtually nobody on the roads,” he said.
Mr. Ndouba said the rebels looted “any property they came across,” including mobile phones, cars, and livestock. The witness’s own house was looted and a tombstone he had acquired for his father’s grave was taken. He also witnessed the torture of two young men, then heard gunshots shortly afterwards. His captors informed him these individuals had been killed.
The witness said Bozizé’s fighters raped the daughter of a renowned Patassé government official. He provided details of this incident in closed session.
Meanwhile, earlier today linguistics expert Professor Eyamba George Bokamba completed giving evidence.
Hearings in the trial continue on Monday morning with further testimony from Mr. Ndouba.