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Former MLC Officer Says Bemba Never Issued Commands

A former military officer with the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) has told judges that the group’s founder, Jean-Pierre Bemba, did not issue operational commands to his fighters who were deployed in a conflict in a neighboring country.

Testifying for the second day at the International Criminal Court (ICC),‘Witness D04-18’ described the MLC expedition he was part of, which went to the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2001 to assist the country’s then president fight off a coup attempt.

The witness said all orders to those troops came from General François Bozizé, who at the time was the chief of staff of the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) and commanded the counter-insurgency operations. He said Central African soldiers fought alongside the foreign soldiers, also working as their guides because they were familiar with the terrain.

Prosecuting lawyer Horejah Bala-Gaye read excerpts from a book authored by Mr. Bemba, in which he stated that he ordered his soldiers to take a particular road during that campaign in the Central African capital Bangui. “Is an order to take a particular road not a tactical order?” asked Ms. Bala-Gaye.

The witness replied that Central African soldiers drew up an operational plan that divided up the operational zones for FACA and for its Congolese and Libyan allies.

“Do you think Bemba knew the roads in Bangui to tell soldiers to take a particular road?” the witness asked. “The various trunk roads were found in the operational plan drawn by FACA, and it was the FACA general staff via Bozizé who said take such and such a road.”

‘Witness D04-18’ said it would have been a “complete imbroglio” for him and other soldiers deployed in the neighboring country to receive orders from Mr. Bemba rather than from that country’s military hierarchy.

“There was no direct order coming from Bemba when we were in Bangui,” he stressed. According to him, it was possible that the editors of Mr. Bemba’s book embellished it for “political propaganda purposes,” which could explain the allusion to an order he purportedly gave to soldiers deployed into the conflict country.

Testimony by this witness relates to the first intervention in 2001 by Mr. Bemba’s forces into the CAR conflict. The command responsibility charges he faces at the ICC over alleged murders, rapes, and pillaging resulted from a second intervention that lasted from October 2002 to March 2003. However, it is the defense case that command and control structures in place during the two interventions were the same. Furthermore, the defense denies that Mr. Bemba had the means to issue orders to his soldiers once they were deployed outside the Democratic Republic of Congo.

‘Witness D04-18’ is giving evidence in the trial with protective measures including image and voice distortion during public broadcasts in order to conceal his identity. His testimony today ended prematurely due to ill health. A court doctor was due to assess his condition. It was not clear whether he would be able to continue his testimony tomorrow.