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Witness Says Central African Soldiers Spoke Lingala

A witness who spent 38 days as a captive of rebels led by François Bozizé, the current president of the Central African Republic (CAR), says some of them spoke the Congolese language Lingala.

Prosper Ndouba, a former spokesperson to the late president Ange-Félix Patassé – who was overthrown by Mr. Bozizé in March 2003 – was today continuing his testimony in the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Last Friday, Mr. Ndouba stated that the Bozizé rebels spoke the local language Sango, Chadian Arabic, and “broken French.” Today, prosecutors questioned him about inconsistencies between his testimony in court and the account he gave in a book published in 2006.

In the book, the witness describes Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) as speakers of Lingala. This afternoon, Mr. Ndouba said that whereas it was not mentioned in his book, some of the Bozizé rebels also spoke Lingala. “When I was with them at PK 12 [Point Kilomètre 12], some of them did speak Lingala amongst themselves. They said it was so that they would be taken for MLC troops and not rebels,” the witness explained.

“Why would Bozizé’s rebels speak Lingala and pretend to be someone else if the MLC wasn’t in the CAR at the time?” asked prosecuting lawyer Petra Kneur.

“They expected them [the MLC] to arrive,” replied the former presidential spokesperson. He did not give an indication of how many Central African soldiers he heard speaking Lingala.

Prosecutors also questioned Mr. Ndouba about a December 2002 meeting he had with Mustafa Mukiza, the commander of Mr. Bemba’s troops stationed in the conflict country.

The witness said after the rebels released him, he met General Mukiza who wanted to obtain from him information about the rebel positions, types of ammunition they had, and other intelligence.

“Would you agree that the meeting took place in a private house?” asked Ms. Kneur.

“Yes, it was indeed a private house,” replied Mr. Ndouba. He explained that the house was owned by a civilian, but it “was assigned” to the General by CAR authorities. He did not know if the owner was paid for the use of his house

Mr. Ndouba also met with Ferdinand Bombayake who headed the Central African presidential guard that spearheaded the fight against the insurgents. However, the general did not ask any questions similar to those posed by General Mukiza.

While the witness told the trial last week that he had no contact with his family during the captivity, today he conceded that, as detailed in his book titled L’otage du général rebelle centrafricain François Bozizé, family members visited him on two occasions.

Mr. Ndouba has also previously testified that at the time of his captivity and throughout 38 day period, no other armed forces were present in the capital Bangui. However, in his book he recounts hearing talk amongst his captors that MLC forces had taken up positions in the capital on the evening of October 25, 2002.

Asked by Ms. Kneur about this inconsistency, Mr. Ndouba attributed it to “rumors” that were circulating at the time. “I believe it was later on that they [MLC] arrived. It was not immediately following my capture,” he said.

Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of Congo has been on trial at the ICC since November 2010. He is charged with failure to control or punish his troops as they rampaged in the neighboring country during 2002 and 2003. He has denied three crimes against humanity (murder, rape, and pillaging) and two war crimes (murder and rape).

The prosecution continues to cross-examine Mr. Ndouba tomorrow morning.