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Bemba Was ‘Too Busy to Command Troops’

War crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba “would not stand by and not take action” if he were aware that his troops were committing acts of violence, a former officer with the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) militia said today.

‘Witness D04-18′ said the Congolese opposition leader was “extremely” busy during 2002 and 2003, the period when International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors claim he was aware of his troops’ crimes against civilians but took no action against them.

“He simply did not have the time to monitor the situation in Bangui,” the witness said, referring to the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR).

Under questioning by lawyers representing victims in the trial, the witness reiterated that he was not personally involved with the 2002-2003 conflict. However, he served as a commander with an MLC contingent that intervened in the neighboring country in 2001. During that intervention, he said, Central African officers commanded the operations the Congolese contingent was involved in.

‘Witness D04-18’ also stated that according to the MLC’s chain of command, responsibility for military discipline fell under the chief of general staff rather than with Mr. Bemba. According to the witness, Mr. Bemba was often away in meetings with leaders of other nations and numerous organizations. As such, he was never involved in the day-to-day operational matters of the group.

Mr. Bemba has been on trial at the court based in The Hague since November 2010. He denies criminal responsibility, as commander-in-chief of the MLC, for the alleged murders, rapes, and pillaging committed by his troops during their five month deployment in the CAR. He claims that after his troops left the Democratic Republic of Congo and crossed into the neighboring country, they fell under the control of that country’s authorities.

Meanwhile, under re-direct questioning by defense lawyer Aime Kilolo-Musamba, ‘Witness D04-18’ said Mr. Bemba did not have any communication or other systems to keep him informed of his troops’ activities and behavior while they were on foreign soil.

“Bangui was outside the MLC controlled territory. At that level, he did not have any control,” said the witness.

Testimony by ‘Witness D04-18’ was heard with his face and voice distorted with hearings often conducted in closed session in order to conceal his identity. He started testifying last Wednesday.

The conclusion of his testimony brought to twenty the number of defense witnesses who have testified for the defense, whose case opened last August. Another 29 individuals are expected to testify for Mr. Bemba.

A new witness is scheduled to start testifying tomorrow morning.