A former senior member of the militia group led by Jean-Pierre Bemba today said that when the decision was made to send the group’s soldiers into an armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR), it was decided that those troops would fall under the command of that country’s authorities.
Testifying under the pseudonym ‘Witness D0-15,’ he stated that these decisions were taken during a meeting of the high command of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC). He said the meeting took place at the group’s headquarters in the Congolese town of Gbadolite on October 27, 2002.
“Why were the MLC put under the command of Central African authorities?” asked defense lawyer Aimé Kilolo-Musamba.
“We opted for this for a number of reasons. First, because in the CAR there was a general staff and this staff had an operations command center,” replied the witness, who was testifying in Mr. Bemba’s trial at the International Criminal Court.
Further testimony on the issue was given in closed session. The witness testified via video link with his image and voice distorted in order to conceal his identity.
The operations command center, also known as the CCOP, coordinated all military operations and intelligence against insurgents during the 2002-2003 Central African conflict. The country’s then president, Ange-Félix Patassé, asked for the assistance of the Congolese troops to back up his loyalist forces in resisting a coup attempt.
The witness told court that following Mr. Patassé’s request and the high command meeting, MLC troops were deployed into the neighboring country on October 30, 2002.
Prior to this, the witness said, a smaller group of solders went to the country “to ensure that the port of arrival was safe and secure.” He said this group of soldiers did not spend more than a day in the Central African capital Bangui.
‘Witness D0-15’ said throughout their stay on foreign territory, the Congolese troops took orders from CAR authorities.
“What would you say to the theory that Mr. Bemba had effective command and control over troops in the CAR?” asked Mr. Kilolo-Musamba.
“I would be most confused,” replied the witness.
Prosecutors charge that the Congolese troops are responsible for murder, rape, and pillaging committed during the conflict from as early as October 25, 2002 until March 15, 2003. They allege that Mr. Bemba was in direct command and control of his troops during the entire five month period and that despite being aware that they were committing crimes, he did nothing to stop or punish them.
Mr. Bemba has denied three counts of war crimes and two charges of crimes against humanity. He argues that once his troops left the Democratic Republic of Congo, they fell under the command of Mr. Patassé. Furthermore, he claims that any of the numerous armed groups that were active in the conflict could have committed the crimes he is on trial for.
Meanwhile, ‘Witness D04-15’ said Mr. Bemba was a political figure that lacked the professional capacity or skills to command military operations.
“It was for us the professionals to do the [command] work and inform him. I do not think he is a soldier,” said the witness. “If he made any such statement anywhere, those statements would be incorrect.”
It is unclear what position ‘Witness D04-15’ held in the MLC. He continues his testimony tomorrow morning.