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Witness Says Central Africans Commanded Bemba’s Troops

Today, a former soldier in the Central African Republic (CAR) said his country’s army commanders issued orders to Jean-Pierre Bemba’s troops, who took part in an armed conflict in 2002 and 2003.

‘Witness D04-06,’ who started testifying in Mr. Bemba’s trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) this morning, said General André Mazzi, who was in charge of commanding operations against rebels, issued orders, including to Mr. Bemba’s top-most commander.

The witness said General Mazzi reported to General Ferdinand Bombayake, the commander of the Central African presidential guard. General Bombayake reported directly to the country’s then president, Ange-Félix Patassé.

“Most of the instructions from the General [Mazzi] came from the president. I would listen to the general giving instructions,” the witness said. He added that he heard General Mazzi instruct the Congolese fighters not to loot or rape.

The witness also said that “from time to time,” General Bombayake issued direct orders to Mustafa Mukiza, the overall commander of Mr. Bemba’s troops deployed in the conflict country. However, added the witness, “Andre Mazzi was in communications with Mustafa at all times.”

Mr. Bemba denies that his troops committed crimes during their deployment in the conflict. He is on trial for allegedly failing to rein in the rampaging troops, although the prosecution claims he knew they were committing widespread crimes. Mr. Bemba denies commanding the troops when they were deployed on foreign territory, and also claims it was not his troops who committed the abuses.

The witness also said MLC soldiers arrived on Central African territory on October 29, 2002, and they received from the local army various supplies such as communications equipment, uniforms, ranger boots, weapons, vehicles, medicines and ambulances.

He said joint operations between the CAR army and the Congolese fighters started the next day.

Asked by prosecution lawyer Massimo Scaliotti to comment on evidence heard before the court that Mr. Bemba’s troops intervened before October 29, the witness replied: “I did not see or hear of any MLC troops who came in before the 29th.”

Mr. Scaliotti also presented to the witness a copy of a radio message in which Colonel Mustafa communicated to the MLC headquarters in the Congolese town of Gbadolite. In the message dated October 30, 2002, Colonel Mustafa was quoted as saying that he faced difficulties in the field after he was abandoned by Central African authorities.

The witness responded that the message intrigued him, saying the CAR forces and their MLC counterparts were in “good coordination” throughout the operations.

‘Witness D04-06’ testified via video link from an undisclosed location. Judges granted him protective measures, including image and voice distortion during public broadcasts of his testimony.

The hearing of testimony by ‘Witness D04-06’ continues on Monday, June 24.