A former bodyguard to Jean-Pierre Bemba has dispelled prosecution claims that the war crimes accused Congolese opposition leader gave a speech to his forces that fueled their misconduct in an armed conflict.
"Mr. Bemba did not go to Zongo to speak to the troops," said the witness who was testifying at the International Criminal Court (ICC) under the pseudonym 'Witness D04-25.'
The prosecution claims that Mr. Bemba addressed his forces in the Congolese town of Zongo before they were deployed in the 2002-2003 conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR). They allege that he told his troops that they had no family in the neighboring country and that once in the combat zone, anyone they encountered, including those in civilian clothing, was "the enemy."
However, 'Witness D04-25' said Mr. Bemba did not address the troops at Zongo. He said the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) chief of staff, Colonel Dieudonné Amuli, may have addressed the troops before their deployment. The witness could not confirm this though because he was not in Zongo.
According to prosecutors, the progression of the MLC in the conflict country was marked with systematic murder, rape, and pillaging. Mr. Bemba's fighters were in that country to assist its then president, Ange-Félix Patassé, fight off an armed rebellion.
Mr. Bemba denies that he had effective command and control over his troops once they crossed the Congolese border, arguing that they then fell under the command of Central African authorities.
In his testimony yesterday, 'Witness D04-25' said Mr. Bemba did not command the group's military operations because he had not attended any military academy. The witness said it was Colonel Amuli who was in charge of commanding and disciplining the fighters while Mr. Bemba concentrated on political affairs.
This afternoon, 'Witness D04-25' stated that Mr. Bemba was never in contact with the troops and that all field operations reports within the Congo were sent to the chief of staff. As the president of the MLC, Mr. Bemba received copies of the reports for information purposes only. "In the CAR, the troops were under the command of the Central African military authorities," he added.
Meanwhile, a new witness took the stand today. Going by the pseudonym 'Witness D04-36,' he gave his initial evidence in closed session. He is scheduled to continue testifying tomorrow morning.