A former soldier in the rebel force Jean-Pierre Bemba’s troops fought against in the Central African Republic (CAR) has said he was not aware of any crimes committed by the Bemba fighters. The only crimes he was aware of were committed by soldiers of the rebel group led by General François Bozizé.
“The Bozizé rebel crimes were committed in my presence, and I took part in them,” said the former soldier, testifying for the second day on behalf of Mr. Bemba in the trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Yesterday, this witness testified that his colleagues committed rape, murder, and pillaging in numerous towns.
During cross-examination, prosecuting lawyer Thomas Bifwoli put it to ‘Witness D04-56’ that on November 2, 2002, the suburb of PK 12 in the country’s capital was under the joint control of government forces and Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers. How could rebels have committed crimes in that suburb after they had been driven out?
“If someone is stealing or perpetuating an abuse, that person doesn’t take into account the presence of other people. He knows how to go about it and go away,” responded the witness.
“So it is your testimony that the Bozizé rebels continued to commit crimes in the areas that were under MLC control?” asked Mr. Bifwoli.
The former fighter replied, “There were insubordinate soldiers who were coming back.”
Mr. Bemba denies that it was his soldiers who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity over which he is on trial. He also contends that command over his troops deployed in the conflict rested with Central African authorities and not him.
‘Witness D04-56’ is a Central African national of Congolese descent. He said he served in the Central African armed forces (FACA) before joining the Bozizé rebellion that started in October 2002 and culminated in the capture of power in March 2003. Mr. Bozizé served as president of the CAR until March this year, when he was deposed by insurgents.
Meanwhile, the witness also testified that the Bozizé rebels spoke the Congolese language Lingala while perpetrating crimes because they had noticed that it instilled fear in the civilian population.
“When I spoke Lingala for the first time, I saw the fear. It enabled me to continue committing crimes,” he said, without explaining why the language aroused fear among civilians.
He said the use of Lingala was not aimed at prejudicing other forces active in the conflict, such as Mr. Bemba’s group. “The idea was to confuse people so that they wouldn’t identify us,” he said.
Hearings resume on Friday morning.