On the concluding day of his testimony, a former insider in the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) said that Jean-Pierre Bemba “lost authority” over his troops once he put them at the disposal of Central African authorities.
Testifying in Mr. Bemba’s war crimes trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) via video link, ‘Witness D04-21’ stated that had the accused exercised any power over his troops, it would have “called into question” the agreement he had reached with Ange-Félix Patassé, president of the Central African Republic (CAR) at the time.
“The conditions of the agreement were that Central African authorities would provide logistical resources, the operations command would be the responsibility of CAR officers and the management of discipline of the troops would also be the responsibility of CAR authorities,” said the witness.
He added that this agreement was reached following a verbal discussion between the now deceased Patassé and Mr. Bemba, when the former was requesting Congolese troops to help his campaign against insurgents.
“How did you know about this oral agreement?” asked Judge Joyce Aluoch.
“Two people who attended the meeting Mr. Bemba held with a few officials of the MLC during which the decision was taken to give a positive response to the CAR authorities told me,” responded the witness.
Faced with an uprising, Mr. Patassé called upon the assistance of Mr. Bemba’s troops to help him fight back the insurgents. Prosecutors charge that the intervention of the Congolese troops in the neighboring country between October 2002 and March 2003 was marked with murders, rape, and pillaging. Mr. Bemba, as their commander-in-chief, is being held criminally responsible for the alleged crimes. He denies all five charges against him, arguing that once his troops left Congolese territory, they were under the direct command of Central African authorities.
Meanwhile, victims’ lawyer Marie-Edith Douzima-Lawson asked the witness whether he was aware that Mustafa Mukiza, the commander of the MLC contingent deployed in the conflict, requested for additional logistics for his unit from the MLC headquarters in the Congolese town of Gbadolite. The witness answered in the affirmative.
“Did he obtain those needs?” asked Ms. Douzima-Lawson.
“Gbadolite must have contacted Bangui [Capital of the CAR] to resolve the problem,” he replied.
The conclusion of testimony by ‘Witness D04-21’ brings to 17 the number of defense witnesses who have testified in the trial that started in November 2010. At the opening of the defense case last August, Mr. Bemba’s lawyers said that the 63 individuals they intended to call, unlike those called by prosecutors, had “tangible knowledge” of the five-month period during which the accused’s soldiers were deployed in the conflict country.
The next defense witness, ‘Witness D04-39’ is scheduled to take the stand this Monday, April 15.