Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
A witness in the International Criminal Court, ICC, trial of Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba last week provided details of an alleged massacre of at a cattle market close to the capital of the Central African Republic, CAR.
Testifying under the pseudonym Witness 79, and with voice and face distortion, she said that the attack at the cattle market at PK13, which is located 13 kilometres from the capital Bangui, left "many Muslims" dead including her husband.
The witness said the attack was led by Martin Koumtamadji, a Chadian national also known as Miskine, who headed a special military unit outside the army that fought coup attempts against then CAR president Ange-Félix Patassé.
She recalled how a resident of PK13 informed her of the attack on the cattle market.
Witness 79 said this person told her, "You Muslims are here but Miskine and the Banyamulenge have killed many Muslims and he promised to come back later and kill more Muslims in [the suburb of] PK12."
Banyamulenge is a term people in the CAR used to refer to Bemba's soldiers who were in Bangui during 2002 and 2003 to help Patassé fight off an armed rebellion.
Last November, the first prosecution witness in Bemba's trial stated that, when rebels led by sacked army chief Francois Bozize attacked Bangui, Miskine carried out a punitive raid on the cattle market. The raid took place on October 30 and 31, 2002.
Human rights organisations have in the past asked the ICC to try Miskine and Patassé alongside Bemba. They claim the three bear equal responsibility for the crimes committed in CAR.
Bemba's lawyers have stated repeatedly that there were several militia groups that committed atrocities in Bangui at the time his troops were in the country. They argue that soldiers from any of these groups could have committed the crimes Bemba is charged with.
Bemba, 48, has been in detention at the ICC since July 2008. Although he was not in CAR with the troops as they allegedly raped, murdered, and pillaged, he is on trial because prosecutors charge that he should bear responsibility for not having restrained or punished his soldiers.
According to the Rome Statute which founded the ICC, a military commander is criminally responsible for crimes committed by forces under their effective command and control.
In her testimony last week, Witness 79 recounted how she and her 11-year-old daughter were raped by soldiers' from Bemba's Movement for the Liberation of Congo, MLC.
She also stated that her husband was killed by a force led by Miskine, who she said was accompanied by MLC troops.
Under questioning by prosecution lawyer Horejah Bala-Gaye, she said, "The person who killed my husband was Miskine and the Banyamulenge who were accompanying him."
She added that, besides her husband, many other people were killed at the cattle market, and described how she and some of her neighbours met two MLC commanders to protest the soldiers' ill treatment of civilians.
The witness explained that the meeting took place at the home of the local chief in the PK12 suburb. She said the commanders addressed them in French.
"They said, 'If you see those people come to the neighbourhood and commit violent abuses, know that some are not professional soldiers. These are people who have been given military clothing and weapons to go to the front'," she recalled.
She added that MLC commanders also said those seen raping women were men who wanted to steal and were not professional soldiers.
The witness did not say in open court who gave weapons to the untrained soldiers, and did not state the names of the commanders or whether they promised to take action against soldiers who abused civilians.
Witness 79 said that Bemba's troops were the only soldiers in her neighbourhood at the time civilians were subjected to abuses.
"I didn't see a presence of other soldiers over and beyond those I have mentioned," she said.
The witness said two days after she was raped, she learned that her mother and elder sister had also been raped by MLC troops. She said as a result of this attack, her mother became "rather disorderly in her behaviour" and fled to neighbouring Chad.
Her brother, whose belongings were among those looted from her house on the night of her rape, "became very angry" and left home. He had not been heard of since, she said.
"I live in a state of worry," the witness said. "I am troubled. I know I am not right in my mind. I know I have psychological problems."
The trial continues this week.
Wairagala Wakabi is an IWPR-trained reporter in The Hague.
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