The command structure of Congolese troops deployed in a 2002-2003 armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) has continued to dominate the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba, the former Congolese vice president whose fighters are accused of committing mass rapes, killings, and plunder.
A defense witness, who commenced testimony today, told judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) that the late CAR president Ange-Félix Patassé was part of the command structure governing the conduct of Mr. Bemba's Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops. His orders were allegedly channeled through the leader of the presidential guard, Ferdinand Bombayake.
'Witness D04-51' said General Bombayake's orders to the foreign troops were issued to the Congolese contingent's head, Colonel Mustafa Mukiza, and were made in consultation with President Patassé. The witness said Mr. Patassé followed all the MLC's field operations through a communications system set up at his residence.
"General Bombayake was running the show," said the witness, who described the General as Mr. Patassé's "right hand man."
The witness gave most of his evidence in closed session. In order to conceal his identity, his voice and image were distorted during the brief public broadcasts of his testimony.
Faced with a rebellion in October 2002, Mr. Patassé called in the support of Mr. Bemba's troops, who at the time were a rebel force in the Democratic Republic of Congo. ICC prosecutors charge that the Congolese troops were uncontrolled and brutalized civilians in the conflict country.
Mr. Bemba denies responsibility for the crimes the troops purportedly committed, arguing that once they were deployed in the CAR they fell under the command of Mr. Patassé.
Meanwhile, 'Witness D04-51' also stated that Central African soldiers led the Congolese troops in operations against the insurgents. "They followed us. They didn't know the field. It is our soldiers who showed them the way."
He said the coordination of movement and operations between the MLC and their Central African counterparts was done through radio. "We used the same radio frequency," the witness said.
The trial continues tomorrow morning with the cross-examination of 'Witness D04-51' by the prosecution.