Today, the 25th individual to testify for the defense in Jean-Pierre Bemba’s trial at the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) completed giving evidence. ‘Witness D04-06’ testified about the command structures of Mr. Bemba’s militia deployed in an armed conflict in 2002 and 2003 and the groups responsible for crimes committed during the insurgency.
Although most of his evidence was heard in closed session, in brief moments of open court this witness reiterated that he was not aware of any crimes committed by Mr. Bemba’s soldiers during their deployment in the conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR). He testified for two days via video link from an undisclosed location in Africa.
Prosecuting lawyer Massimo Scaliotti presented to the witness a copy of an article published by the Central African newspaper Le Citoyen on November 5, 2002. The article stated that Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers had pillaged houses in the 36 Villas neighborhood of the capital Bangui. The local soldiers had reportedly only managed to prevent the looting of two houses that belonged to ministers.
“Are you aware of such an incident?” asked Mr. Scaliotti.
“I am learning about this from the court. I was never aware of such information,” replied the witness. He said that during the conflict, he neither read newspapers nor listened to radio broadcasts.
Under questioning by victims’ lawyer Assingambi Zarambaud, ‘Witness DO4-06’ denied knowledge of an incident in which the Congolese soldiers allegedly looted musical instruments and computers from the support regiment of the Central African armed forces.
“Nothing was looted at the support regiment,” he said. The witness also denied knowledge of an incident where Mr. Bemba’s troops allegedly disarmed and beat up a group of Central African soldiers.
Meanwhile, during re-direct questioning by defense lawyer Peter Haynes, the witness stated that rebels who were fighting to overthrow the government at the time carried out massacres in the towns of Bossangoa and Bossembélé, “the place of the hardest fighting.”
Mr. Bemba, a Congolese national, is on trial at the ICC for allegedly failing to stop or punish his soldiers, who prosecutors claim committed widespread rapes, murders, and plunder. His troops went to the country to help its then president, Ange-Félix Patassé, beat back a coup attempt.
In his previous testimony, ‘Witness D04-06’ said the accused’s troops fell under the orders of his country’s army commanders. He also stated that upon arrival in the country on October 29, 2002, the Congolese soldiers received equipment and supplies from Central African authorities.
Tomorrow, the trial resumes hearing the testimony of ‘Witness D04-03.’ This individual, who first took the witness stand last Tuesday, was unable to continue with his testimony last week due to ill health.