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Prosecutors Challenge Witness on Date Bemba Troops Joined Conflict

Today, the date on which war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba’s troops arrived in the Central African Republic (CAR) was the focus of the prosecution’s cross-examination of a defense witness in the trial at The Hague.

Prosecuting lawyer Eric Iverson said the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) arrived in the conflict country two days earlier than the date given by the witness. He presented documents, purportedly authored by members of Mr. Bemba’s militia, which showed soldiers from the group were deployed into the conflict before the October 28, 2002 date given by ‘Witness D04-45.’

The witness, whose testimony has entered the fourth day, has previously told the court that seven to 10 soldiers from the MLC’s 28th battalion were sent to the conflict country on October 26, 2002 for purposes of “assessing the situation in the field” but returned to Congo the same day. “Nobody stayed in Bangui on the 26th,” he said, referring to the Central African capital.

However, a situation report Mr. Iverson presented to the witness mentioned the arrival of 151 MLC soldiers in Bangui as of October 26, 2002. Dated on the morning of the same day, the message was purportedly sent by the commander of the 28th battalion to the group’s staff headquarters in the town of Gbadolite in Congo. In another message presented by the prosecution, the battalion commander on October 27, 2002 reports a calm situation and “high morale” among his troops.

“Wouldn’t it be strange if an operations message was coming from Bangui if the 28th battalion were not even there?” Mr. Iverson asked.

“On the 27th, no soldier of the 28th battalion was on the other side. Late at night on the 28th is when they went across,” responded the witness.

Subsequent questions on this matter were put to the witness in closed session. The witness is testifying by way of video link, with protective measures including image and voice distortion as well as the frequent use of private session.

Mr. Bemba denies that he took no action although he was aware that his troops were committing atrocities against Central African civilians. Prosecutors charge that upon deployment in the neighboring country on October 25, 2002, the Congolese troops carried out mass rapes, murder, and pillaging.

The former vice president of Congo contends that any of the armed groups that were active in the conflict country could have committed the crimes he is charged with. Besides, it is his defense that none of his troops were deployed into the CAR before October 30, 2002.

The cross-examination of ‘Witness D04-45’ continues tomorrow morning.