Prosecutors have contested the testimony of a former insider in Jean-Pierre Bemba’s group, who testified that the accused did not issue orders to his troops during operations in the Central African Republic (CAR). The witness said Central African authorities commanded and controlled the troops.
During cross-examination, prosecution lawyer Shkelzen Zeneli put it to ‘Witness D04-39’ that witness testimony indicated that Mr. Bemba, by means of radio and satellite phone, “bypassed the chain of command and reached out directly” to his commanders stationed in the CAR.
“I find that surprising,” responded the witness. He explained that it was possible Mr. Bemba could have maintained communication with his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) commanders in the conflict country but this would not have been to issue orders but “to ascertain soldiers’ morale.”
“When a unit is under operations command, it is cut off from its organic chain of command, and it answers the orders of the authority which assigns missions and gives orders to it,” stated the witness.
Mr. Zeneli presented communication logs from 2002 in which Mr. Bemba is indicated as transmitting a message to a commander of troops out in the field in Congo. The message reads in part, “Do not move. Be ready to move towards Mambasa.”
The prosecuting lawyer asked whether the message could be described as an order. The witness replied that it could not. He explained that for the message to have qualified as an operations order, it would have to say what time the troops should be ready to move, which units had to move, and by what means.
The witness said the message was giving instructions to the field commander “but without saying how to do so.”
“Do you think Mr. Bemba could have also done the same with the MLC commander in the CAR?” asked Mr. Zeneli.
“If he thought he had the necessary intelligence to give instructions or orders to the troops, Mustafa would never say no,” replied the witness, referring to Mustafa Mukiza, the head of the MLC contingent deployed into the conflict.
Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of Congo, is on trial for allegedly failing to control his soldiers who are accused of committing rapes, murders, and plunder during 2002 and 2003. He denies the charges, arguing that once his troops crossed into Central African territory, they were under the command of the country’s then president, Ange-Félix Patassé, who invited them to help him beat back a coup attempt.
In his testimony yesterday, ‘Witness D04-39’ stated that Mr. Bemba delegated command and control of his troops to Central African authorities because it would have been difficult for him to obtain intelligence information from the battlefield and react to it in a timely manner.
The witness is testifying via video link from an unknown location. He was granted protective measure, including image and voice distortion as well as the frequent use of private session in order to conceal his identity.
The prosecution continues its cross-examination tomorrow morning.