13 May 2013

Central African Republic: Witness Regrets ICC Is Unaware of Crimes Bozizé Forces Committed

Today, a witness said he regretted that the crimes his colleagues committed while they fought to capture power in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002 and 2003 were not known to the world court trying former Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba.

Testifying under the court-given name 'Witness D04-56,' the former fighter in General François Bozizé's rebellion (which led to a capture of state power in March 2003), said he regretted that there were many unreported crimes committed by rebels in their drive to gain state power.

The witness, who has been testifying at the International Criminal Court (ICC) since last Tuesday, has told the court that he and his colleagues in the Bozizé rebellion brutalized civilians during the armed conflict in which Mr. Bemba's forces fought on the side of then Central African president Ange-Félix Patassé.

He said the rebels committed rape, murder, and looting, crimes he claimed prosecutors at the ICC had wrongly blamed on Mr. Bemba's forces.

The witness, who described himself as a Central African national of Congolese origin, said he was not aware of any crimes committed by forces belonging to the accused's Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC).

'Witness D04-56', the nineteenth individual to testify for Mr. Bemba, has told the court that the Bozizé rebels committed acts of violence against civilians, including in towns occupied by the accused's troops.

He said the fighters, comprised of defectors from the national army, Chadian nationals, and other local recruits, spoke the Congolese language of Lingala as they perpetrated these crimes.

During re-direct questioning today, defense lawyer Peter Haynes presented to court a February 2003 report from the French press agency AFP, quoting residents of the towns of Bozoum and Sibut recounting brutal crimes, including rapes and torture, allegedly suffered at the hands of the Bozizé rebels. According to the report, the residents were "very happy" to be liberated by government forces with the support of the Bemba troops.

"It is the truth," the witness said of the remarks by individuals interviewed by AFP. He said he and his colleagues did all the things that were reported by the news agency. "I feel bad about what happened. Many other cases [of rebel crimes] were not reported on," he said.

Mr. Bemba, the MLC commander-in-chief, is on trial for allegedly failing to control his troops, who prosecutors claim perpetrated rape, murder and pillaging during their five months deployment in the conflict country. He denies the charges.

The testimony by 'Witness D04-56' has been heard via video link from an unknown location. In addition to his image and voice being distorted during public broadcasts, some of his evidence has been heard in closed session in order to protect his identity.

Before adjourning the hearing this evening, after 'Witness D04-56' completed his testimony, presiding judge Sylvia Steiner said the date for the next hearing would be communicated in due course.

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