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Witness Maintains Bemba Troops Did Not Commit Crimes

On the concluding day of his testimony, a former soldier in the armed forces of the Central African Republic (CAR) said there may have been “confusion” over the identity of the perpetrators of crimes during the 2002-2003 armed conflict in the country.

Testifying in the war crimes trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC), ‘Witness D04-04’ stated that it was possible that crimes were committed by Central African soldiers who spoke Lingala, a language native to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“There was no way to distinguish between the Congolese and Central African soldiers because we were all wearing the same uniforms,” he said. He maintained that he was not aware of any crimes committed by the accused’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers.

Prosecuting lawyer Thomas Bifwoli put it to the witness that the trial had previously heard evidence on weapons allegedly stolen by MLC fighters from Central African soldiers. Mr. Bifwoli said that according to this evidence, the Congolese soldiers then proceeded to undertake operations independently.

The prosecuting lawyer asked ‘Witness D04-04’ why his testimony contradicted this evidence.

The witness replied: “Do not underestimate the FACA [Central African armed forces]. We wouldn’t just stand by and allow people who came to assist us to pillage from us. I can not imagine a Central African soldier tolerating such.”

In his testimony yesterday, this witness described abuses committed by rebels during October 2002. He said the rebels committed abuses in Sibut, PK12, and Damara. He said these towns were “liberated” from rebel control by government soldiers with the assistance of Mr. Bemba’s troops.

Also today, Marie Edith Douzima-Lawson, a lawyer representing victims in the trial, presented a statement from a previous witness who was an inhabitant of Sibut. The unnamed individual stated that Mr. Bemba’s troops raped girls, some of them as young as 10 years old. These girls were reportedly seen running around the town naked and crying.

‘Witness D04-04’ maintained that residents of Sibut “warmly welcomed” the joint Congolese and FACA troops. “They were pleased to see us,” he added.

The prosecution contends that Mr. Bemba, as the commander-in-chief of the MLC, is responsible for three counts of war crimes (rape, murder, and pillaging) and two crimes against humanity (murder and rape) committed by his troops in the CAR. The former vice president of Congo has pleaded not guilty in the trial which began in November 2010.

The testimony of ‘Witness D04-04’ has been heard via video link from an undisclosed location. His face and image were distorted during public broadcasts in order to keep his identity secret.

Tomorrow, a new witness going by the pseudonym ‘Witness D04-06’ will start testifying.