Today, a former bodyguard to former Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba started testifying at the International Criminal Court (ICC), where Bemba has been on trial since November 2010.
Testifying for the defense under the pseudonym ‘Witness D04-25,’ the former member of Mr. Bemba’s personal security escort downplayed the role his boss played in commanding fighters of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC). He said it was the group’s chief of staff, rather than Mr. Bemba, who was in charge of commanding and disciplining the group’s soldiers – with Mr. Bemba concentrating on political affairs.
“How can he head up military operations? He is a civilian and has no military training,” the witness said of Mr. Bemba, while being questioned by prosecution lawyer Jean-Jacques Badibanga.
Prosecutors claim that Mr. Bemba had effective command and control of his troops deployed in the 2002-2003 conflict in the Central African Republic but failed to discipline them although he knew that they were committing rape, murder, and pillaging. He denies the charges.
According to ‘Witness D04-25,’ Mr. Bemba as the MLC political leader may have been awarded the rank of commander, but he did not undergo military training and was not responsible for military operations.
Several defense witnesses, including a military expert, have previously told the trial that operational matters of organized military groups, including disciplinary affairs, fall under the chief of staff and not the commander-in-chief. However, the trial has also heard from numerous prosecution witnesses that Mr. Bemba was in direct contact with his forces deployed in the conflict and that he was able to know about crimes his troops were committing and to discipline the errant fighters.
‘Witness D04-25’ denied knowledge of any vehicles looted from the conflict country, which prosecutors claim senior MLC officials took back to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The witness continues his testimony tomorrow.