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MLC Insider Says Bemba Did Not Have Satellite Phone

A former close associate to Jean-Pierre Bemba has dispelled claims by prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) that the war crimes accused possessed a satellite phone that he used to issue orders to his troops.

“I never saw him with a Thuraya [satellite phone], and I never communicated with him with one,” said ‘Witness D04-15.’

He said he only communicated with Mr. Bemba via a short range walkie-talkie within the vicinity of the headquarters of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) in the Congolese town of Gbadolite. The witness was responding to questions put to him by trial lawyer Eric Iverson.

A number of prosecution witnesses have previously testified that Mr. Bemba had a Thuraya satellite phone at his residence, which he used to communicate orders to his commanders out in the field, including in the Central African Republic (CAR). Other communications devices allegedly at his disposal included walkie-talkies and mobile phones.

General Daniel Opande, a military expert called by the prosecution in December 2011, stated that Mr. Bemba had “assured means” to issue direct commands to his troops both at home and in the CAR and to stop them from committing atrocities.

Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is on trial for atrocities his fighters allegedly committed when they were deployed in the Central African conflict. During the conflict, Mr. Bemba remained in Gbadolite but prosecutors charge that he maintained effective command of the troops. They further charge that he knew his fighters were committing atrocities, but he did not punish or stop them. He denies the charges.

It is unclear in what capacity ‘Witness D04-15’ served within the MLC. He testified remotely via video link with his image and voice distorted in order to protect his identity. Most of his evidence was heard in closed session.

Since the start of his testimony on Wednesday, ‘Witness D04-15’ has stated that MLC troops who were deployed in the conflict during 2002 and 2003 fell under the command of that country’s authorities. He also said Mr. Bemba was the group’s political figurehead and not a trained soldier, thus he was incapable of commanding and controlling his soldiers.

Meanwhile, under questioning by victims’ lawyer Marie Edith Douzima-Lawson, the witness said that once the MLC troops left Congolese territory, Mr. Bemba only maintained an “administrative overview” with them, regularly receiving information on their physical well being, morale, and casualties.

Hearings in the trial are scheduled to continue on September 23, with the testimony of a new defense witness.