Today, a former soldier in the armed forces of the Central African Republic (CAR) placed blame for crimes committed against civilians during the 2002-2003 armed conflict on rebels who were led by General François Bozizé.
“General Bozizé and his soldiers were the ones responsible for the paralysis of the neighborhoods in northern Bangui,” said ‘Witness D04-02,’ who is testifying on behalf of Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC). This witness, who started giving evidence in Mr. Bemba’s war crimes trial this morning, said he was not aware of any crimes that were committed by the accused’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops.
He said the Bozizé rebels committed murders, rapes, and pillaging. “They took vehicles, domestic appliances, doors of houses were forced open, and people were killed. It was known by everybody,” he said. Moreover, “massive destruction also happened” in the days following the rebels’ capture of power on March 15, 2003.
The witness stated that although he was not an eyewitness to these crimes, he saw dead bodies, some of them of civilians and others of soldiers, lying around the city, and heard accounts by members of the public about rapes and pillaging.
‘Witness D04-02’ is testifying via video link from an undisclosed location in Africa. Judges granted him protective measures, including image and voice distortion during public broadcasts of his testimony. Hearings were frequently conducted in closed session in order to protect his identity.
Mr. Bemba is on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity arising from his alleged failure to control his troops, who prosecutors say brutalized civilians while deployed in the conflict in the CAR. He denies the charges, maintaining that the marauding soldiers did not belong to his group and that he had no means to command troops deployed in the neighboring country while he remained in Congo. The MLC were deployed in the conflict at the behest of its then president Ange-Félix Patassé’ to assist him beat back the Bozizé-led insurgency.
Meanwhile, ‘Witness D04-02’ testified that the Congolese troops arrived in the country on October 29, 2002 and were based at Camp Beyale – the national navy base. He said following their arrival, the Bemba troops received uniforms and other necessities, including communication devices “exactly like the CAR soldiers” from the country’s authorities. He stated that joint operations by the MLC and the Central African armed forces to drive Bozizé’s rebels from Bangui commenced on October 30.
The joint operations were coordinated through the use of walkie talkies. However, ‘Witness D04-02’ said as the forces progressed beyond Bangui, the walkie talkies were replaced with Thuraya satellite phones.
“Beyond PK12 (a Bangui suburb), the walkie talkie frequency wasn’t there, or the signal was poor. So as they moved forward, they needed the Thurayas to communicate better,” he said. Communications were coordinated at the operations command center (CCOP), which was commanded by Central African generals, the witness recalled.
‘Witness D04-02’ continues testifying tomorrow morning.