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Witness: Bemba Ordered Probe Into Conduct of Troops

On his second day to testimony, a former member of the militia group led by Jean-Pierre Bemba said that once the Congolese opposition leader heard about allegations of his troops’ misconduct in the Central African Republic (CAR), he contacted that country’s authorities and demanded an investigation.

According to ‘Witness D04-15,’ Central African authorities responded by inviting officers of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) to join them in conducting the investigations.

“Bemba put the allegations of crimes to the CAR authorities and they asked that MLC officers join them to conduct investigations. An officer from the MLC was sent, and he joined the CAR authorities in carrying out investigations into the allegations,” said the witness.

Under cross-examination by prosecution lawyer Eric Iverson, the witness stated that Mr. Bemba and other members of the MLC high command who were resident in Gbadolite – the Congolese town where the group had its headquarters – first heard reports of alleged MLC crimes via Radio France International (RFI).

Subsequent questioning on this matter, including the results of the probe, was done in closed session. The witness, who is testifying before the International Criminal Court via video link from an undisclosed African country, was granted protective measures in order to conceal his identity.

Yesterday, ‘Witness D04-15’ said that when the Congolese troops were deployed into the neighboring country between October 2002 and March 2003, they were placed under the command of Central African authorities. This was aimed to allow for joint coordination of military operations of Mr. Bemba’s troops and other forces who were helping the country’s then president, Ange-Félix Patassé, stave off a coup attempt.

Mr. Bemba denies prosecution claims that his forces committed murder, rape, and pillaging, and that he failed to discipline them even though he knew they were committing these crimes. He argues that once the troops left Congolese territory, they no longer fell under his command but that of Mr. Patassé.

Also in his testimony today, ‘Witness D04-15’ said during their deployment in the conflict country, MLC soldiers received supplies from Central African authorities and not from the group’s headquarters.

Mr. Iverson presented to the witness flight logs indicating up to 74 trips by MLC owned aircraft between Congo and Bangui airport during the five month conflict period.

Asked by Mr. Iverson why there were so many flights, compared to 38 flights in the eight months prior to the troops’ deployment, the witness replied that the trips were for fuel and other supplies to Gbadolite and transportation of MLC officers and their spouses.

“Because of the conflict, the MLC upped the number of flights to Bangui to increase fuel supplies in Gbadolite,” explained the witness.

The witness reiterated that no military supplies were transported from the Congo to the group’s troops in the neighboring country.

The prosecution’s cross-examination of ‘Witness D04-15’ continues tomorrow morning.