22 August 2013

Central African Republic: Former Rebel Not Aware of Crimes By Bemba's Fighters

A former member of the rebel force that war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba's Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) militia fought against in the Central African Republic says he did not hear of any crimes committed by the accused's militia.

However, the former rebel fighter today testified at the International Criminal Court (ICC) that he heard of crimes allegedly committed by forces loyal to the country's then president Ange-Félix Patassé. Mr. Bemba's fighters were among the forces that supported Mr. Patassé during the 2002-2003 conflict.

"Based on our intelligence, we were told that in the other camp they were looting, but we were not told if it was the Libyans, the Banyamulenge, or any other group," said 'Witness D04-23.' Banyamulenge was the local term used to refer to Mr. Bemba's Congolese troops.

The witness, who is the twenty-sixth to testify in the defense of the former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, said he heard of the arrival of the MLC on October 30, 2002. He said the rebels' advance towards the capital Bangui was that day "met with strong resistance."

"We were told of the arrival of the Banyamulenge reinforcements, Libyans, and several other groups including [Abdoulaye] Miskine's troops," recalled the witness.

However, the witness said he did not have details of the Congolese soldiers' involvement in the conflict: "I did not fight alongside the Banyamulenge. At that time, they were our enemies."

'Witness D04-23' concluded his testimony this morning. In his testimony that started on Tuesday, the witness said his colleagues in the rebellion that was led by François Bozizé brutalized civilians.

Mr. Bozizé started the rebellion after being sacked as army chief of staff by president Patassé. The MLC, along with Libyan troops and local ethnic militia reinforced the Central African army in support of Mr. Patassé during the conflict that ended in Mr. Bozizé's victory on March 15, 2003.

Mr. Bemba is on trial over the crimes of rape, murder, and looting allegedly committed by his troops. He denies the charges, arguing that any of the other numerous groups active in the conflict could have committed the alleged crimes.

Also today, another witness testifying under the pseudonym 'Witness D04-26' continued his testimony, but all of it was heard in closed session. Both witnesses testified via video link.

'Witness D04-26' continues his testimony tomorrow morning.

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