Today, a former intelligence officer in the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) gave details of logistics support provided by President Ange-Félix Patassé’s government to Jean-Pierre Bemba’s troops.
Testifying with protective measures, including image and voice distortion, ‘Witness D04-07’ also said the accused’s troops received orders from Central African Republic (CAR) authorities. He said the Congolese troops crossed into the conflict country aboard a ferry belonging to the Central African transportation service SOCATRAF.
Upon arrival in the capital Bangui, Mr. Patassé’s defense minister met the troops, some of whom were dressed in civilian clothes. Local authorities then provided the foreign troops with FACA uniforms, ranger boots, ammunition, vehicles, and communication equipment.
The witness said the Congolese troops received a daily subsistence allowance of 2,500 Central African Francs, the same that FACA soldiers got.
He testified that Central African authorities provided Mr. Bemba’s fighters with Thuraya satellite communications devices to facilitate their operations beyond Point Kilomètre 12, also known as PK 12, a suburb of Bangui, as they moved towards Damara and Boali towns. Ferdinand Bombayake, a Central African general, personally handed over the devices, which the witness said had the same frequency as those used by FACA.
Asked by defense lawyer Aimé Kilolo-Musamba why the Congolese troops were given Thuraya sets, the witness said it was to avoid communications being intercepted by François Bozizé’s rebels. The rebels were attempting to overthrow Mr. Patassé, who then called in support from the MLC.
“When Bozizé left, he had taken the radio frequency with him. So his rebel forces and the CAR forces had the same frequency. That is why the rebels reached Bangui quickly. Bozizé’s troops were aware of the communications going out,” he explained.
“Do you know how the MLC in the CAR went about gathering information about the rebel forces’ strengths, weapons, positions, etc?” asked Mr. Kilolo-Musamba.
“Information came by way of the CCOP,” replied the witness, referring to the Center for Command Operations, the outfit run by Mr. Patassé’s commanders that spearheaded the campaign against the insurgents. The witness said the organization of loyalist forces and operational orders were coordinated at this center.
Asked how he knew this, the witness replied, “I am a soldier, I was on the ground at the time when the events took place. It is for that reason that I was able to have all that information.”
Mr. Bemba is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity, arising from his alleged failure to control his troops who prosecutors say brutalized civilians while deployed in the 2002-2003 conflict in the CAR. He denies the charges, maintaining that the marauding soldiers did not belong to his group and that he had no means to command troops deployed in the neighboring country while he remained in Congo.
‘Witness D04-07’ asserted today that the Congolese troops arrived in Bangui four to five days after the October 25, 2002 coup attempt by Mr. Bozizé.
The former intelligence officer also recounted atrocities committed by the Bozizé rebels during their occupation of Bangui prior to the MLC’s arrival. He said among the rebel ranks were children, some of them as young as 10 years old. The rebels were “uncontrollable” and without means of replenishing their supplies, so they lived off the population.
“They were aggressive. They threatened people. They seized property. They raped women,” he said. Whoever tried to stop them would get shot at, he added.
The prosecution is due to start its cross-examination of ‘Witness D04-07’ tomorrow morning.