International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Geopolitical Expert Says Bemba Troops Represented Congo in CAR Conflict

A geopolitical expert today said war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba deployed his troops to a neighboring country on behalf of the national authorities of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Testifying for the second day in the trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), Octave Dioba said once a peace agreement was signed by the warring Congolese factions, Mr. Bemba’s forces became part of the legitimate administrative and military authorities of the Congo.

As such, said the expert, the accused sent his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops to the conflict country under the terms of a mutual defense agreement which several countries in Central Africa had signed.

He explained that under the pre-existing mutual assistance pact between members of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), state parties including the CAR and Congo agreed to provide material, technical, and civilian or military personnel assistance to a member state faced with “any threat of armed aggression.”

According to the expert, in light of that pact and the Lusaka agreement that recognized the MLC as the legitimate administrator of the northern region of Congo, Mr. Bemba’s troops complied with political and legal standards in providing troops to aid the neighboring country’s fight against insurgents.

“The DRC represented by the MLC component was in a legitimate position to provide assistance to another state – the CAR – which was subject to aggressions,” asserted Mr. Dioba.

Other signatories to the mutual protection pact included Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, The Republic of Congo, and São Tomé and Príncipe.

Mr. Dioba stated that the terms of the 1999 Lusaka agreement signed by Congo’s warring parties conferred powers of administration over northern Congo, including ensuring safety at the country’s border with the CAR, upon Mr. Bemba’s group. He added that the agreement recognized the MLC troops as part of the military forces of Congo.

The expert said Mr. Bemba did not have a political or strategic interest in sending his troops to the neighboring country at the time. This was because a peace agreement had been signed by Congolese armed groups who were then negotiating power-sharing arrangements. Prosecutors claim the deployment of the troops to the CAR was part of Mr. Bemba’s endeavor to gain a strategic military advantage in furtherance of his armed campaign against the Congo government.

Faced with a coup attempt in 2002, former Central African president Ange-Félix Patassé sought the assistance of the Mr. Bemba’s troops in beating back the insurgents. Mr. Bemba has denied charges by prosecutors that he failed to stop or punish his ill trained soldiers who allegedly raped, murdered, and pillaged civilians during their deployment in the neighboring country.

Meanwhile, in other documents presented today before court by the defense, the 21 member Community of Saharan-Sahel States (CEN-SAD) and the African Union condemned the armed insurrection against Mr. Patassé and endorsed the dispatch of foreign troops to restore peace in the conflict country.

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