The Hague, 7 July 2008 (FH) - Last week, Jean Pierre Bemba, leader of the opposition in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), was handed over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) after being arrested six weeks ago by Belgian police within the framework of an international arrest warrant. From Saint Gilles prison, in Brussels, the leader of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo was sent to the penitentiary of Scheveningen, in the suburbs of The Hague.

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He joined the former President of Liberia Charles Taylor, on trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), which is extraordinarily holding this trial in The Hague, and three officials from militias from eastern DRC, Thomas Lubanga, Germain Katanga, and Mathieu Ngudjolo.

The ICC wants to try him for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by his men in the Central African Republic at the end of 2002 and 2003. He sent his militia there to support the former President Ange Félix Patassé. The charges against him should be confirmed on 4 November. He will then be formally indicted.

One of his lawyers, Aimé Kilolo, interviewed by the Hirondelle Agency explained that “for the moment, it is fine; he is satisfied with the conditions which have been offered to him”. His wife and his two children should be able to visit him soon.

During his first appearance before the judges of the preliminary chamber in The Hague, on 4 July, Jean-Pierre Bemba simply declined his identity, pointing out his status of senator from Congo. But before the International Criminal Court, elected officials do not have any form of immunity.

Already, during his arrest by Belgian police on 24 May, Jean-Pierre Bemba had claimed his status, without any success. His lawyers, Eduard van der Spoel, of the bar of Rotterdam, and Aimé Kilolo, of the bar of Brussels and Lumumbashi, announced their intention to ask for the release of their Congolese client and challenged the validity of his arrest.

For the first time, the prosecutor set up a “tracking team”, a team charged with following the actions of the leader of the Congolese opposition. Following his defeat at the presidential elections, then at the battle which took place in Kinshasa, Jean-Pierre Bemba went to Portugal in April 2007, from where he had gone, inter alia, to Belgium and France.

A billionaire, Jean Pierre Bemba will have to form his defence team - constituted for the moment of two permanent lawyers - and to be made aware of the evidence collected by the office of the prosecutor during its investigation.