Today, a witness said Jean-Pierre Bemba was not in charge of operations and discipline in the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), the group he founded.
A former officer in the accused’s militia, who started testifying this morning, said those responsibilities fell under the group’s Chief of General Staff, Colonel Dieudonné Amuli.
Testifying under the pseudonym ‘Witness D04-18’ at the International Criminal Court (ICC), he was questioned by defense lawyer Aime Kilolo-Musamba about the command structure of the MLC in the territory they controlled in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 2001 and 2003.
“The day-to-day management, the monitoring, the scheduling or the organization of the MLC came under the command of General [Dieudonné] Amuli with the assistance of the various directorates and his various commanders,” the witness said.
Asked by Mr. Kilolo-Musamba who was responsible for the discipline of soldiers, ‘Witness D04-18’ said it was General Amuli, with the assistance of the group’s intelligence directorate. He said this directorate routinely investigated cases of indiscipline and submitted its reports and recommendations to General Amuli.
However, General Amuli made the final decisions, and he could reject the directorate’s recommendations.
The witness stated that it was standard practice globally for day-to-day management of the army to be vested with the chief of general staff.
General Amuli is currently an operations chief of staff of the Congolese national army, which he joined along with other MLC troops following a 2003 peace pact.
“What was the role of Mr. Bemba in the MLC?” asked the defense lawyer.
“Bemba was the commander-in-chief,” responded the witness. “He was the one who chaired the Political/ Military Committee. He took action only if something went to his level.”
The witness explained that although field commanders would sometimes copy their reports to Mr. Bemba, he rarely reacted to them.
Describing Mr. Bemba as “a very rigorous man” and “strict,” the witness said even on the occasions he reacted to some reports, the responsibility to implement, respond, and provide oversight lay with the chief of general staff.
Prosecutors at the ICC charge that Mr. Bemba was in direct command and control of his troops deployed in the Central African Republic (CAR) during 2002-2003 and that he was able to issue direct orders to those troops.
They further charge that while Mr. Bemba knew that his troops were committing crimes, he did not stop or punish them.
Indeed, some prosecution witnesses have testified that Mr. Bemba was in regular and direct contact with his troops and that he communicated with his CAR-based commanders via radio, Thuraya satellite phone, and mobile phone.
Last August, retired French army brigadier-general Jacques Seara asserted that Mustafa Mukiza, who commanded the Congolese contingent in the conflict, was only able to maintain an administrative link with the group’s headquarters in Congo, regularly reporting on the situation in the conflict country and challenges he faced.
He said Colonel Mustafa’s messages, including reports of deaths and injuries, were specifically addressed to General Amuli.
General Seara said from his analysis of documents and interviews with senior officers from the accused’s militia and the Central African army, it was unlikely that Colonel Mustafa and Mr. Bemba were able to communicate directly.
In his testimony today, ‘Witness D04-18’ talked about the deployment of MLC troops into the neighboring country during a 2001 conflict. He said those troops did not have any direct contacts with their headquarters in Congo.
The witness said the chief of staff of the Central African army issued operational orders to the MLC soldiers, and it was to him and to that country’s defense minister that the Congolese troops reported.
The witness said by the time of the 2002-2003 conflict, he had left the military. As such, he was unable to testify to testify about the particular events over which Mr. Bemba is on trial.
The trial continues tomorrow.
By Wakabi Wairagala,