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Witness Tells Bemba Trial CAR Soldiers Raped Wives of Suspected Rebels

A former soldier in the army of the Central African Republic (CAR) says his colleagues raped women whose husbands they suspected of being rebels.

On the last day of his testimony in the trial of Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, the former soldier testifying under the pseudonym ‘Witness D04-03’ blamed the poor training received by the soldiers for their rowdy behavior.

He said, “We went into houses and asked for men. When the women said that they were not there, we realized that Bozizé had recruited the men. We would then brutalize the wife.”

François Bozizé led the rebellion that led to the overthrow of Central African president Ange-Félix Patassé in March 2003. Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops fought on the side of Mr. Patassé, and prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) allege that these troops committed rapes, murders, and pillaging.

‘Witness D04-03′ stated this afternoon that once when he expressed disapproval of his colleagues’ behavior, one of them pulled a gun on him. The witness did not say how many rapes were committed by his colleagues or the locations where the abuses were committed.

The witness blamed the indiscipline among CAR soldiers on the short duration of the training they received. He said the training lasted one day because “there was no time” and then the recruits were sent off to the frontline.

He said the accelerated military training, which included weapons handling, identifying the enemy, hierarchy, and respect of civilian property, was conducted on October 27, 2002. The recruits started combat operations on October 28.

Mr. Bemba’s trial started in November 2010 and is being heard by judges Sylvia Steiner (presiding), Kuniko Ozaki, and Joyce Aluoch. The five charges faced by the Congolese opposition leader stem from his alleged failure to rein in his troops who prosecutors claim brutalized civilians.

He denies the charges, claiming that his troops were under Mr. Patassé’s command and that any of the numerous armed groups active in the conflict could have committed the crimes he is on trial for.

In his testimony last week, ‘Witness D04-03’ said Central African soldiers and the Bozizé rebels brutalized civilians. He stated that the abuses committed by the CAR soldiers were in retaliation for attacks carried out by rebels. The witness said that he was not aware of any crimes committed by Mr. Bemba’s fighters.

Testimony by ‘Witness D04-03’ was heard via video link from an undisclosed location in Africa. He was granted protective measures including image and voice distortion as well as the frequent use of closed session in order to conceal his identity.

A status conference is scheduled for Thursday this week to determine the schedule for presentation of the remaining defense evidence.