Today, another former official in the government of Ange-Félix Patassé, the late president of the Central African Republic (CAR), told the war crimes trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba that the accused did not command his troops stationed in that country during 2002 and 2003.
Testifying with protective measures, ‘Witness D04-64’ stated that on a visit to the conflict country, Mr. Bemba told his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops that they were under the command of Central African authorities. “He told them to respect Bombayake as himself,” said the witness. Ferdinand Bombayake was the commander of Mr. Patassé’s presidential guard, the group that championed the counterinsurgency.
Like four other defense witnesses before him – also former officials in the Patassé regime – ‘Witness D04-64’ commenced his testimony today by recounting the arrival of the MLC and the logistical support provided to them by Central African authorities.
He said the Congolese troops arrived on Central African territory on October 30, 2002 aboard a ferry. Upon arrival, General Bombayake provided the troops with uniforms of the presidential guard. He also gave them communication devices, weapons, and 4×4 vehicles. ‘Witness D04-64’ said some of the MLC troops arrived with “some” handheld weapons, but these were not sufficient for the operations they were to carry out.
The witness also testified that Central African authorities gave Mr. Bemba’s soldiers a monetary allowance drawn from the national treasury to cater for their food and other necessities.
“The Director General of the Treasury gave a suitcase full of money every day to General Bombayake who would then contact Mustafa and together they would take that money and distribute it to the soldiers on the ground,” said ‘Witness D04-64’. General Mustafa Mukiza was the commander of Mr. Bemba’s soldiers who intervened in the conflict.
Asked by defense lawyer Aimé Kilolo-Musamba how he knew all this, the witness responded, “All this happened in front of us at the residence of the president.”
Mr. Bemba, a Congolese opposition leader, is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for allegedly failing to control his MLC troops, who prosecutors allege raped, murdered, and plundered Central African civilians. Prosecutors charge that Mr. Bemba knew his forces were committing or about to commit crimes but he failed to take “all necessary and reasonable measures to prevent or stop crimes” being committed. His troops were deployed to assist Mr. Patassé beat back a rebellion.
Mr. Bemba has denied all the charges against him, arguing that once the MLC fighters crossed the border from the Congo into the CAR, they were under the command of Central African authorities.
Today, prosecution lawyer Horejah Bala-Gaye presented to the witness a letter written by Mr. Bemba to the United Nations Security Council regarding the MLC’s intervention in the neighboring country. In the letter, Mr. Bemba was quoted as stating that his troops were deployed in the CAR on October 27, 2002.
“I am surprised by this,” replied the witness. “Bemba’s troops arrived in the CAR on October 30th.”
The date of arrival on which the MLC joined the conflict is in contention. Prosecutors have blamed the MLC for some crimes committed as early as October 25, 2002 but the defense maintains that Mr. Bemba’s troops entered the country on October 30, 2002.
Ms. Bala-Gaye also challenged the testimony by ‘Witness D04-64’ that Mr. Bemba’s troops did not arrive with heavy weaponry and vehicles. She presented the witness with a photograph of purported MLC soldiers, with weapons and a car, said to have been taken at the Oubangui River port in the country’s capital Bangui.
“This is a vehicle of CEN-SAD (Community of Saharan-Sahel States) forces. This vehicle was based at port beach well before the arrival of the MLC troops,” he said. Forces from CEN-SAD were deployed in the country to maintain peace but ultimately fought on the side of Mr. Patassé.
Asked about the possibility that MLC soldiers carried their own communication devices, the witness said such equipment would not be “automatically” operational in the CAR without changing the radio frequency.
‘Witness D04-64’ continues to give evidence tomorrow morning.