An investigation by a military expert found that rebel forces under François Bozizé committed atrocities against civilians during their advance to take power in the Central African Republic (CAR).
"I was able to note from documents I analyzed and from interviews conducted that the people were under pressure to pay allegiance to the rebel forces and cooperate to the extent possible with those forces whether they liked it or not," the expert, General Jacques Seara, said today.
Testifying in the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for a third day, the expert stated that the Bozizé rebels only possessed fuel and ammunition and as a result "lived off the people and some acts of violence were committed."
Mr. Bozizé's rebels captured power from president Ange-Félix Patassé in March 2003. His fighters comprised soldiers who had defected from Mr. Patassé's side and Chadian nationals. The expert said there was no discipline among the Bozizé fighters and that it was difficult to bring them under control.
"The Chadians were volunteers or mercenaries without military training but able to handle weapons," said the General. He added that according to the testimony of the Central African soldiers who fought with Mr. Bozizé and commanded them, the Chadians "had a sense of independence."
Mr. Bemba has denied charges of failing to control his soldiers who allegedly carried out mass rapes, killings, and looting. His case is being heard by judges Sylvia Steiner (presiding), Kuniko Ozaki, and Joyce Aluoch. His troops took part in the CAR conflict in support of Mr. Patassé.
General Seara said most civilians fled the rebel-occupied areas. Those who stayed behind to protect their property "did not have a good experience" with the rebels and were able to easily identify them as perpetrators of crimes because they were mostly Chadian, "wore whatever they chose" and spoke a foreign language.
The expert said the Bozizé's rebels committed acts of violence during their progression from Chad to the Central African capital Bangui, while retreating after defeat in Bangui, and during their eventual capture of power.
Mr. Bemba denies that it was his troops who committed the atrocities, suggesting that any of the other armed groups active in the conflict could have committed the atrocities. Furthermore, he argues that once his troops left the Congo, he had no effective command over them.
In his report to the court, which he wrote at the behest of the defense, General Seara concludes that it was not possible for the accused to command his troops remotely. This afternoon, the expert reiterated that Mr. Bemba had other immediate concerns in the DRC at the time, which required his attention more than the events in the CAR.
"We must understand that Mr. Bemba had other concerns, other pre-occupations apart from the CAR. He had other brigades in the Congo of immediate political concern to him," said the General. He explained that it was important not to confuse the role Mr. Bemba's as commander-in-chief of the MLC played in his country and the role he played in making some of his troops available to Mr. Patassé.
At the time of the intervention in the neighboring country, the MLC was a rebel group fighting to topple the Congolese government.
Hearings in the trial continue tomorrow morning with the prosecution's cross-examination of General Seara.