A witness today described a massacre at a cattle market in the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), which he said was carried out by a militia allied to the country’s armed forces.
The witness, who served with the Central African Armed Forces (FACA), told judges in the Jean-Pierre Bemba trial that both the national army and François Bozizé’s rebels brutalized civilians during the 2002-2003 conflict.
Testifying under the pseudonym ‘Witness D04-03,’ he stated that abuses committed by FACA soldiers were in retaliation for attacks carried out by rebels. He said the rebels raped, looted, and murdered, with family members and supporters of then president Ange-Félix Patassé targeted by the insurgents.
According to the witness, FACA soldiers whose relatives were subjected to abuses by the rebels carried out the revenge attacks. He said one such attach was led by Colonel Abdoulaye Miskine at a cattle market in the PK13 suburb near the capital Bangui.
“Most of the people selling cattle were Chadians. Miskine’s men shot at all the people that they thought were Chadians,” said the witness. He did not say how many people were wounded or killed during the shooting. This attack was carried out because there were Chadian nationals among the Bozizé rebel ranks.
Mr. Miskine, also known as Martin Koumtamadji, commanded a special unit independent of FACA, which was among the groups that helped Mr. Patassé fight the insurgents. Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops fought alongside the Patassé loyalist forces.
Mr. Bemba is on trial at the International Criminal Court over rapes, murders, and plunder allegedly committed by his troops. The former vice president of Congo has denied the charges and stated that any of the myriad militia groups active in the conflict at the time could have committed these crimes.
‘Witness D04-03’ said that he, along with other Central African soldiers, looted Mr. Bozizé’s residence, taking shoes, clothes, vehicles, and weapons.
He stated that he was present during incidents of rape by FACA soldiers. He said the rapes angered him. “That wasn’t the reason for us being there. Our goal was to free Central Africans, not to rape our sisters,” said the witness.
“Did you see any MLC troops involved in the commission of crimes?” asked defense lawyer Peter Haynes.
“No, I never saw that,” replied the witness.
Under cross-examination by prosecution lawyer Horejah Bala-Gaye, ‘Witness D04-03’ maintained that he was not aware of any crimes committed by Mr. Bemba’s troops. Ms. Bala-Gaye presented to the witness testimony previously heard before the court, in which Central African civilians attributed crimes to the MLC. She said the local radio station Ndeke Luka also widely broadcast reports of the alleged crimes.
“When we were in the field, there were no journalists so where did this information come from?” the witness responded.
Meanwhile, this afternoon, ‘Witness D04-04,’ another former FACA soldier, recalled that the MLC arrived in the conflict country on October 29, 2002 and received military uniforms, weapons, and vehicles from Central African authorities. Thereafter, he said, the Congolese troops were merged with the local soldiers on a ratio of two Central African platoons to one MLC platoon.
‘Witness D04-04’ said that the joint troops started operations against rebels on October 30, 2002. During those operations, orders, and instructions were issued through the Center for Command Operations (CCOP), which he said was headed by Central African generals.
‘Witness D04-03’ is scheduled to continue giving testimony tomorrow morning. He was not able to continue testimony this afternoon for reasons the court did not disclose. Meanwhile, ‘Witness D04-04’ is expected to continue his testimony tomorrow afternoon. The two witnesses are testifying via video-link from an unknown location.