Defence Blames Patasse Loyalists for Crimes

Bemba team contends his troops were not in CAR when many of abuses took place.

Defence Blames Patasse Loyalists for Crimes

Bemba team contends his troops were not in CAR when many of abuses took place.

Jean-Pierre Bemba’s defence last week claimed that militia groups backing the Central African Republic, CAR, authorities were responsible for much of the violence there during 2002 and 2003.

Bemba, a former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, is on trial at the International Criminal Court, ICC, over rapes, murders, and plunder allegedly committed in CAR by his troops. He has denied the charges and stated that any of the myriad militia groups active in Bangui, the CAR capital, at the time could have committed these crimes.

Defence lawyer Aimé Kilolo-Musamba also stated that Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo, MLC, soldiers were not in CAR at the time many of these crimes took place.

While cross-examining a witness who testified with face and voice distortion and was identified only as Witness 119, Kilolo-Musamba mentioned several militia groups he said operated in Bangui before October 2002. At the time, he added, Bemba’s troops had not entered CAR.

In her testimony, Witness 119 described plunder and gang rapes by soldiers she said belonged to the MLC. According to her, these crimes were committed in the Bangui suburbs of Point Kilometre and Boy-Rabé.

The witness said she concluded that the soldiers who committed crimes in her neighbourhood were Congolese because they spoke Lingala, a language spoken in DRC but not in CAR.

She also said when these soldiers arrived in her neighbourhood, they hid by the roadside “gathered together in groups” and asked for food from area residents.

Witness 119 said that Congolese women also kept guard over goods that the MLC soldiers had looted from civilians at Boy-Rabe market.

But defence lawyer Kilolo-Musamba said that the Karako, Balawa and Sarawi militia groups had been to blame for the crimes. He said these groups had supported the government of then president Ange-Félix Patassé, who faced a coup attempt from his sacked army chief, Francois Bozizé.

The defence also contended that Bozizé’s rebels were operating in the areas mentioned by the witness, and could have perpetrated some of the crimes for which Bemba is on trial.

Kilolo-Musamba said each of these groups had about 500 members.

Asked whether she knew about the defence and vigilante units that operated in various Bangui neighbourhoods, Witness 119 explained that these groups were set up at the behest of Patasse.

“Do you know whether these groups were organised as private militia of Patasse at the time?” Kilolo-Musamba asked.

“At the particular time when these groups were being put together, authorities in each neighbourhood had to supervise [them],” the witness answered. “They were responsible for monitoring and security.”

The witness added that one of the three militia groups was largely made up of jobless young men who supported Patasse.

“Most of them were unemployed youths [that had been] trained, and since they had no jobs, many of them followed or rallied around President Patasse,” she said.

Asked if she knew whether these militia were involved in committing crimes and abuses, the witness replied, “We had no such information after they rallied around President Patassé, and they fled together.”

She added that she did not know what role the various militia loyal to Patasse had played during the upheaval in Bangui.

When asked if she knew an individual known as Miskine, the witness replied that she knew this person had been “in the inner circle” of Patasse.

“Do you know whether Miskine’s troops were involved in the violent acts and abuses that took place at Bangui during the events in question?” Kilolo-Musamba asked.

“The sole thing that I know is that the morning of the day when the Banyamulenge [MLC soldiers] left Boy-Rabé neighbourhood, Miskine’s men had shot at the local inhabitants,” the witness responded.

Numerous prosecution witnesses have testified that Colonel Abdoulaye Miskine, who is said to have commanded a special unit outside the army that fought insurgents attempting to overthrow Patassé, led a massacre at the Bangui cattle market.

Kilolo-Musamba asked the witness to explain why she initially told prosecution investigators that MLC troops had reached her neighbourhood on October 22, 2002, but days later stated that they had arrived on October 28.

“When the investigators asked me questions in Bangui, it was my duty to tell the truth. If I wasn’t sure of an answer, I had to carry out some checks,” the witness replied.

Assingambi Zarambaud, a legal representative of victims participating in the trial, asked the witness whether there were any rebels belonging to Bozizé’s group in her neighbourhood at the time the MLC reached the area.

She replied that the Bozizé rebels who had been hiding in her area left when the MLC arrived in the area.

The trial continues next week.

Wairagala Wakabi is an IWPR-trained reporter.

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