23 August 2013

Congo-Kinshasa: Prosecutors Challenge Credibility of Bemba Witness

A witness has denied suggestions by International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors that he may have received "promises" in exchange for giving evidence that implicates forces other than those of war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba in war crimes.

Testifying under the pseudonym 'Witness D04-26,' the witness said he was merely being "cautious" when, prior to his testimony, he told defense lawyers that he had knowledge of the conduct of Mr. Bemba's Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops during an armed conflict in 2002-2003.

The witness has attributed acts of violence, including rape and pillaging, to rebel troops who were led by François Bozizé. The witness played a role in that rebellion, although details of his role were not disclosed.

He said because the rebels received neither payment nor food, they started stealing from civilians. He denied knowledge of any misconduct by Mr. Bemba's fighters deployed in the conflict to back up the army of the Central African Republic (CAR).

However, a document prosecutors presented to court showed that 'Witness D04-26' told Mr. Bemba's lawyers that he had knowledge of the MLC's five month's intervention in the conflict country. Asked by prosecution lawyer Massimo Scaliotti why, in his four-day testimony, he has not given any evidence to that effect, the witness replied that during his initial contact with defense lawyers, he was being "cautious."

"I did not have complete trust in them and was weary of saying certain things. Today I am in front of professionals, and I must speak the truth," explained the witness.

"Have you been promised anything from anyone in exchange for your testimony to the court?" asked Mr. Scaliotti.

"Nobody has offered me anything," the witness answered.

The prosecution charges that Mr. Bemba is criminally responsible as a commander for murder, rape, and pillaging, allegedly committed by his troops. Mr. Bemba acknowledges that his troops participated in the conflict but claims they were not under his command but that of the then CAR president Ange-Félix Patassé.

In his testimony today, 'Witness D04-26' said the Bozizé rebels did not wear military uniforms but "a mix of attires" as they brutalized civilians.

The trial has previously heard from prosecution witnesses that they recognized MLC soldiers as the perpetrators of crimes because the marauding fighters' attire distinguished them from Central African soldiers.

A new defense witness will start testifying on Monday, August 26.

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