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Patassé Guard: Local Generals Commanded Bemba’s Fighters

Today, a former member of the presidential guard of the Central African Republic (CAR) said war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba did not command his troops, who were deployed in an armed conflict in the country. ‘Witness D04-50’ said the accused’s militia, along with forces loyal to then president Ange-Félix Patassé, fell under the command of generals from the CAR.

The witness, who completed his testimony in the trial at the International Criminal court (ICC), said many groups involved in the conflict committed atrocities. He said he did not see any members of Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) committing any crimes.

‘Witness D04-50’ testified with his image and voice distorted in portions of his testimony that were re-transmitted to the public. Most of his evidence was heard in closed session.

Yesterday, the witness recalled the arrival of Mr. Bemba’s troops into the CAR capital Bangui on October 30, 2002. He said the presidential guard, also known as USP, provided the Congolese troops with uniforms. Thereafter, the MLC, the presidential guard, as well as other forces loyal to President Patassé launched an offensive against the insurgents.

This afternoon, ‘Witness D04-50’ stated that the presidential guard led the MLC troops during operations because the foreign troops “did not know the terrain properly.” He said the USP also worked in collaboration with the country’s regular army known as Forces Armées Centrafricaines (FACA).

“Who commanded these forces?” asked Marie-Edith Douzima-Lawson, a lawyer representing victims in the trial.

The witness answered, “General Mazzi and Colonel Lengbe of the FACA.”  General André Mazzi was the chief of staff of the Central African army.

Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, contends that his soldiers who were deployed in the neighboring country were not under his command but that of Central African authorities. Mr. Patassé invited the Congolese fighters to assist him in fighting off a coup attempt.

As the MLC commander-in-chief, Mr. Bemba is charged with three counts of war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging) and two crimes against humanity (rape and murder). ICC prosecutors allege that he failed to control or to punish his troops who reportedly brutalized Central African civilians.

‘Witness D04-50’ said that local and international radio stations reported that “all” troops involved in the conflict were committing abuses.  Asked by Ms. Douzima-Lawson whether he was aware of any crimes committed by the MLC, he replied: “I did not see with my own eyes any physical acts [of abuse].”

Meanwhile, earlier today, under cross-examination by prosecution lawyer Thomas Bifwoli, the witness said he did not know whether Mr. Bemba’s soldiers traveled from Congo with their own communication devices.

“As far as I know, they were in communication with our leaders, but I didn’t know whether they crossed over with radios,” he said.

The trial is scheduled to continue tomorrow afternoon with the testimony of a new witness going by the pseudonym ‘Witness D04-57.’