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Witness: Local Forces Led Bemba Troops in Joint Operations

War crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba’s Congolese troops did not operate independently of the army of the Central African Republic (CAR) during their deployment in that country, a witness stated today.

Testifying for a second day, ‘Witness D04-51’ stated that Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops “were always together” with the local army during operations against the rebel forces of François Bozizé.

Mr. Bemba contends that his soldiers who were deployed in that country were not under his command but that of the country’s authorities. The then Central African president, Ange-Félix Patassé, invited the Congolese fighters to assist him fight off the insurgents.

‘Witness D04-51’ asserted that the Congolese troops and the Central African army “were always together on the field” until Bozizé seized power in March 2003.

He said all operations against the rebels were “joint,” and that because MLC soldiers did not know the terrain, local soldiers led the way. The witness said some Central African soldiers acted as drivers for the Congolese troops.

The witness also said all orders for the joint troops to advance were issued by the Center for Command Operations (CCOP), which coordinated all military operations against the insurgents. These orders were issued via radio over the frequency shared by the local and foreign troops.

The evidence by this witness contradicts that given by the former head of the CCOP, Colonel Thierry Lengbe. Testifying for the prosecution last November, he stated that the accused’s forces and the local army undertook only one joint operation.

“There was just one operation on the 27th [October 2002] to push back Bozizé’s men beyond Point Kilomètre 13. There were no other joint operations,” explained Colonel Lengbe, who headed the center between October and November 2002.

‘Witness D04-51’ also testified that the Congolese troops did not arrive in the country until October 30, 2002 – disputing earlier arrival dates given by some prosecution witnesses.

Mr. Bemba is charged with three counts of war crimes (rape, murder, and pillaging) and two crimes against humanity (rape and murder). Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) allege that he failed to control or to punish his MLC troops who brutalized Central African civilians.

‘Witness D04-51’ continues to give testimony tomorrow morning.