A soldier who fought in the 2002-2003 armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) has described massacres of civilians by rebels belonging to the group François Bozizé led.
Continuing his testimony in the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC), the witness said, “We saw dead bodies, torched houses, and villagers who had been slaughtered.” He was describing the village of Sibut after government forces wrested it from rebel control.
The former soldier, who is testifying under the pseudonym ‘Witness D04-04,’ said when his unit reached the suburb of PK12, many civilians came forward to report abuses committed by the rebels.
In Damara, the village chief told them about the looting and rapes the rebels had perpetuated. In Bossangoa, a priest told the government forces that the rebels had looted a cotton factory and church.
Defense lawyer Peter Haynes asked ‘Witness D04-04’ whether he was aware of crimes committed by loyalist forces in the areas where he was involved in combat.
“No, I have no knowledge of that,” replied the witness. He explained that his platoon, which comprised of government soldiers and fighters from Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops, was among the first to enter the towns as the rebels fled.
Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner asked the witness about testimony by another former government soldier, who told the trial this week that some loyalist forces carried out revenge attacks against civilians.
The witness said he was not aware of those attacks. “After we advanced, there was always a unit that settled in the towns to ensure the enemy did not return. Those who stayed behind might have done that,” he said.
Mr. Bemba denies that his troops committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during their involvement in the CAR conflict. He claims other groups involved in the fighting perpetuated the crimes.
Hearings in the trial are scheduled to continue tomorrow morning with the testimony of ‘Witness D04-03,’ who was unable to continue his testimony today due to ill health. ‘Witness D04-04’ is expected to continue giving evidence tomorrow afternoon.