Today, Jean-Pierre Bemba's trial heard that rebels led by François Bozizé recruited Congolese nationals resident in the Central African Republic (CAR) well before the arrival of Mr. Bemba's troops into that country.
"I am not able to give you an exact date, but on the basis of intelligence I received, Bozizé was in the process of recruiting young Congolese shoe shiners well ahead of that day," said 'Witness D04-57,' referring to October 25, 2002.
He said many of the Congolese nationals in question worked as shoe shiners in the capital Bangui and were recruited from the PK 5 suburb. The witness said these recruits, together with Chadian mercenaries, helped General Bozizé to capture power in March 2003.
Some prosecution witnesses previously told the trial that Congolese nationals who did odd jobs in Bangui joined Mr. Bemba's Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops when they arrived in Bangui. One prosecution witness said these "shoe shiners" spoke Congolese and Central African languages, and carried out scouting roles such as "pointing out houses belonging to major figures in the community so that those houses could be looted."
The defense witness stated that the MLC troops deployed in the country did not outnumber Patassé's local loyalist forces. He said Mr. Bemba's troops and their Central African counterparts had "good" working relations.
The witness, who started testifying at The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) yesterday, said that at the start of their insurgency, the Bozizé rebels occupied several suburbs in Bangui for five days from October 25, 2002. These included Boy-Rabé, PK 12, Gobongo, the 4th arrondissement, the 8th arrondissement, and the road to Damara.
Under cross-examination by prosecution lawyer Shkelzen Zeneli today, he said the only neighborhoods the rebels did not control over those five days were 36 Villas, PK5, Fatima, Muskine, and Petevo.
In addition to going by a pseudonym in court, the witness testified with his face and image distorted, as well as the use of private session, in order to protect his identity. The witness has indicated that he was a senior figure of authority in the Patassé government.
Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is on trial for allegedly failing to control his MLC troops who purportedly committed rapes, murders and plunder. Among the areas where prosecutors charge the crimes took place are PK 12, Boy-Rabé, Fou, Mongoumba, Bossangoa, Damara, Bossembélé, Sibut, Bozoum and Bossemptele.
While acknowledging that his troops went to the neighboring country to help Mr. Patassé fight off the Bozizé rebellion, Mr. Bemba denies all five charges against him.
The prosecution's cross-examination of 'Witness D04-57' continues tomorrow morning.