Bemba 'guilty of troops' barbarity', ICC hears as trial nears end

This video grab released on July 4, 2008 by the International Criminal Court shows former Congolese rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba during a pre-trial hearing before the ICC in the Hague (AFP Photo/)
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The Hague (AFP) - The International Criminal Court should convict Jean-Pierre Bemba for his troops' "barbarity" in the Central African Republic, prosecutors said Wednesday as the former Congolese vice president's war crimes trial nears its end.

"We are here today to ask that justice be done, that the accused Jean-Pierre Bemba be found responsible for and guilty of the victims' suffering," prosecutor Jean-Jacques Badibanga said at the start of two days of closing arguments in the case.

Bemba, 52, faces three war crimes counts and two of crimes against humanity for murder, rape and pillage committed by some 1,500 members of his private army in the neighbouring Central African Republic between October 2002 and March 2003.

His troops allegedly murdered, raped and pillaged after Bemba sent them into the country in late 2002 to help put down a coup against then-CAR president Ange-Felix Patasse.

"The case shows that the civilian population of the Central African Republic suffered in the worst way possible from the barbarity of Jean-Pierre Bemba's troops," Badibanga said.

"It has been proven that the soldiers who committed these atrocities were under Jean-Pierre Bemba's authority and effective control. It has been proven that Jean-Pierre Bemba knew from the first day that he had the power to prevent them (committing crimes) or at least sanction them," he said.

Judges should look at the case and say "what place military leaders should really have on the scale of penal responsibilities for crimes committed by their subordinates", Badibanga said.

Crucially, Bemba is not accused of committing any violence himself but as a "military leader" according to the principle of command responsibility, he added.

Bemba listened attentively to the hearing while regularly taking notes.

Lawyers for Bemba, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, argue vigorously that his forces were under CAR command when the atrocities were committed.

The former rebel leader turned politician has said he deployed his troops when Patasse asked for help in quelling a rebellion led by the former armed forces chief Francois Bozize, who eventually seized power in 2003.

Bemba, who unsuccessfully challenged current DR Congo President Joseph Kabila in polls in 2006, went into exile after government forces routed his private militia in 2007. He was arrested in Brussels in 2008.

His case saw the Hague-based ICC approving a record 3,000 victims to take part in the hearing.

In a parallel case Bemba and four associates including his defence lawyer and members of his Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) have been accused of presenting false information and witness tampering in his trial.

Last month the court ordered the four men's interim release as that case continued, but the ICC has yet to announce a trial date.

The ICC is the world's only independent permanent tribunal to try cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It was established in 2002 and opened its doors a year later.

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