18 November 2011

Congo-Kinshasa: Witness Says Libya Armed Bemba's Fighters

A witness has described how the Libyan government supplied arms to Jean-Pierre Bemba's Congolese militia, which prosecutors claim committed war crimes in theCentral African Republic (CAR) during 2002 and 2003.

'Witness 213â-' said Libyan planes delivered ammunition from Tripoli to Gbadolite, the Congolese town where Mr. Bemba's rebel force had its headquarters. The witness, who is testifying under a pseudonym, stated that the carriers were Migs [a type of Russian fighter aircraft] and that they were "military" in color.

He said the aircraft "were mounted in Gbadolite and from there, they took off to the CAR". From the Central African capital Bangui , the Migs returned to Tripoli .

"Do you mean they were used in bombing raids?" asked defense lawyer Peter Haynes.

"Yes," replied the witness, a former insider in Mr. Bemba's group. "When we went to Bangui , Bemba asked Mustafa whether they had the support of the Migs and Mustafa said yes, they were using Migs to bomb." General Mustafa Mukiza headed the MLC forces involved the conflict.

The witness asserted, however, that when he went on site visits in Bangui , he did not witness any such bombings.

The witness also stated that "supplies" including rifles and handguns delivered from Tripoli were transported from Gbadolite by Antonov aircraft to Zongo, a town along the Ouibangui River , and then onward into the CAR.

Asked by presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner to clarify whether Libyans accompanied the ammunition from Gbadolite to Bangui , 'Witness 213â-' replied in the negative.

"The Libyans involved were the pilots of the Migs," said the witness.

Most of the cross-examination of the witness was conducted in closed session. The witness has previously testified that Mr. Bemba was in regular contact with his soldiers deployed in the Central African country. Moreover, the witness has testified that the war crimes accused regularly and directly gave orders to his fighters involved in the conflict in the neighboring country.

Mr. Bemba's militia was one of the armed groups active in the 2002-2003 Central African conflict that pitted the country's then president, Ange-Félix Patassé, against his sacked army chief of staff François Bozizé. Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) charge that the MLC's progression in the conflict country in support of Mr. Patassé was characterized by widespread murder, looting and rape. As their commander-in-chief, Mr. Bemba is being tried at the Hague-based court for failing to stop or punish his troops. He has pleaded not guilty.

The trial continues on Monday morning with further testimony from 'Witness 213â-'.

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