Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers were "very well" trained, according to the testimony of a former insider in the group led by war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba.
Testifying today at Mr. Bemba's trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), the insider going by the pseudonym 'Witness D04-49' said the group's training included military discipline and respect for the code of conduct, which was considered a bible for the group.
The witness also stated that MLC military operations inside the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were coordinated through radio transmissions at a center located in the same compound as the residence of the group's chief of general staff. This center was located in the Congolese town of Gbadolite, where the group had its headquarters.
'Witness D04-49' is the 12th witness called by the defense in the trial of the former vice president of Congo, who denies that he looked on as his soldiers murdered, raped, and pillaged. Most of today's testimony was heard in closed session. In brief public broadcasts, the evidence by 'Witness D04-49' was heard with his image and voice distorted in order to protect his identity.
Under questioning by defense lawyer Peter Haynes, 'Witness D04-49' said that military discipline as set out in the MLC's code of conduct was "absolutely" emphasized during the troops' training.
"Training did include military discipline and the respect of the code of conduct, which was considered to be a bible according to which one knew what to do," said the witness.
He stated the group had a strict policy against the use of drugs and alcohol, as well as crimes against civilians. He said individuals who broke the rules were charged by a disciplinary council.
Prosecutors charge that Mr. Bemba failed to stop or punish crimes by his ill-trained troops, who took part in an armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) during 2002 and 2003. As commander-in-chief, he is being held criminally responsible for two war crimes and three crimes against humanity arising from his troops' alleged crimes against Central African civilians.
Meanwhile, 'Witness D04- 49' stated that the MLC had a center through which communication to units deployed across Congolese territory controlled by the group was transmitted. All messages transmitted through the center, which he said was known as Charlie Tango Romeo, were received by operators, recorded in log books, and then forwarded to the chief of general staff to take action.
"It was with that tool that a commander [of a unit] was able to communicate and receive orders," said the witness.
"Was there one radio center or more than one?" asked Mr. Haynes.
"There was only one transmission center," replied the witness. He said it was located two or three meters from the residence of Colonel Dieudonné Amuli, the MLC chief of staff.
"Witness D04-49' did not say in open court whether the same communications center was used to coordinate the MLC's activities during their deployment in the neighboring CAR.
Some former MLC insiders, who testified for the prosecution, stated that Mr. Bemba commanded his troops through a communications center set up outside his residence in Gbadolite. Some of those witnesses also stated that whereas the MLC had a code of conduct, most soldiers were unaware of its existence. The defense dismisses those claims.
'Witness D04-49' continues to give evidence tomorrow morning.