Central African Republic: Bemba Lacked Means to Command Troops From His Residence

On the fourth day of his testimony, a former insider in the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) asserted that Jean-Pierre Bemba, the group’s commander-in-chief, did not have radio equipment at his residence that could have enabled him to command troops on the battlefront.

This afternoon, prosecuting lawyer Jean-Jacques Badibanga screened video footage that showed Mr. Bemba in his living room, presumably issuing orders to his troops via a radio. A voice-over, apparently by the producer of the video, stated that “there is no doubt Bemba is in charge, surrounded by radios.”

Recognizing the background in the video as Mr. Bemba’s former residence, ‘Witness D04-49’ said radio equipment had indeed been procured for MLC communications. However, he added, this equipment was controlled by operators who regularly changed the frequencies and coded communications to avoid its interception by enemy troops.

“Why would he have equipment by his side? That would have unfavorable outcomes on our operations,” said the witness. “I do not think he mastered all the frequencies that experts were familiar with.” The witness added that while radio equipment may have been set up at Mr. Bemba’s home upon request, it would have been returned quickly to the MLC operations center.

Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for charges stemming from crimes allegedly committed by his troops during their deployment in an armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) between October 2002 and March 2003.

While not physically present in the CAR during the conflict, prosecutors charge that he remained in direct and effective command of his troops from his residence in the Congolese town of Gbadolite. Furthermore, they argue that he knew his troops were committing acts of murder, rape, and pillaging but took no action. He denies the charges.

Also today, Mr. Badibanga presented numerous communication logs, some of them related to communication between Mr. Bemba and MLC field commanders requesting for equipment and operational advice. Some of the logs appeared to show Mr. Bemba provided orders directly to his field commanders who were stationed in the CAR.

After reading the logs, the witness said they were not conclusive evidence that Mr. Bemba made direct orders to his field commanders.

‘Witness D04-49’ continues his testimony tomorrow morning.