Today, International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors questioned a former Congolese militia commander about the variance between his testimony and the account war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba gave in his book about the deployment of his forces in a conflict during 2001.
Whereas Mr. Bemba claimed in the book that he made an order to his fighters who were deployed in the Central African Republic (CAR), the witness testifying under the pseudonym ‘Witness D04-18’ stated that the former vice president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) never made any such order.
Prosecuting lawyer Horejah Bala-Gaye provided a copy of the book to the witness and asked him to point out any parts of a chapter that he deemed incorrect. The witness, who was a commander with Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) contingent deployed into the conflict in 2001, made corrections to three pages.
“So you disagree each time Mr. Bemba says ‘I ordered’?” asked Ms. Bala-Gaye.
The witness responded, “I would like to point out that at the time of my travel to Bangui, I never had any direct contact with Mr. Bemba. I was working with a walkie-talkie given to me by FACA [the Central African armed forces]. I didn’t have any direct contact with Mr. Bemba, and I didn’t receive any direct orders from him.”
The prosecuting lawyer then asked, “According to Mr. Bemba, he gave the order to troops in the CAR. According to the changes you’ve made, these orders came from Central African authorities. Is that correct?”
The witness affirmed that all orders he received while in the Central African capital came from General François Bozizé, who was the chief of staff of the FACA and the operations commander of the counter-insurgency campaign. ‘Witness D04-18’ added that Mr. Bemba was more than 2,000kms from the theater of operations, and there was no means of communication between him and his soldiers.
Ms. Bala-Gaye wondered why Mr. Bemba wrote that he made the order before judicial proceedings were initiated against him, and 12 years later the witness was denying the accused ever issued such an order.
‘Witness D04-18’ replied that he had always called into question aspects of Mr. Bemba’s book, particularly those related to the 2001 Bangui operations. In his testimony last week, the witness stated that the book’s editors could have embellished it for “political propaganda purposes,” which could explain the inaccuracies.
The prosecution charges that MLC forces deployed in the CAR during 2002 and 2003 committed rape, murder, and pillaging against the civilian population. Furthermore, the prosecution contends that while Mr. Bemba effectively acted as a military commander and had effective authority and control over the troops that allegedly committed these crimes, he “did not take all necessary and reasonable measures within his power to prevent or repress their commission.”
Mr. Bemba denies he had the capacity to command his troops who were deployed outside of the DRC, where he was based. He also says any of the numerous armed forces active in the conflict could have committed the crimes that prosecutors blame on his fighters.
Also today, ‘Witness D04-18’ said that once their operations in Bangui ended, he did not channel his report to Mr. Bemba, as military procedures required him to write to his immediate superior who was MLC’s chief of staff. Writing directly to Mr. Bemba would have “created a bad feeling with his direct chief.”
The witness also said MLC troops did not commit any crimes in Bangui during 2001. However, Ms. Bala-Gaye presented to the witness an Amnesty International report in which an unidentified lady was quoted as saying she witnessed rape and pillaging by the MLC soldiers. In response to the report, ‘Witness D04-18’ said the woman may not have been clear on the identity of the soldiers who perpetuated the crimes she alleged.
The trial continues tomorrow.