The Hague, 26 May 2008 (FH) - The former Vice-President of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and leader of the Congolese opposition, Jean-Pierre Bemba, was arrested on 24 May on the outskirts of Brussels, Belgium on an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

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The suspect appeared before a Belgian investigating magistrate Sunday afternoon and is expected to be in the dock this week before the Court Chambers.

He has several possibilities of recourse and his transfer to the Court could take several weeks, according to the spokesperson of the Federal Prosecution of Belgium, Lieve Pellens.

The leader of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) is accused of crimes against humanity , rape, torture and looting as war crimes committed within the framework of a "strategy of violence and terror against the civil population, marked in particular by a campaign of mass rapes and looting", according to the ICC.

In May 2007, two years after being referred by the Central Africa Republic, the Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo had decided to open an investigation against Bemba.

At the same period, Bemba left Kinshasa for Portugal, after fighting in the capital between his close guards and the army. His arrest provoked consternation amidst his supporters. Rumours were swirling that Bemba was to become, in the next days, the spokesperson of the opposition and would have to return to Kinshasa. The Secretary-General of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), Francois Muamba, denounced the "politization" of the Court, claiming that the issuance of an arrest warrant was not an "innocent" act.

Bemba had been tracked for several weeks by investigators of the Court. On 23 May, the judges delivered an urgent arrest warrant for preventative detention, following information according to which the Congolese leader intended to travel to other destinations.

As the ad hoc tribunals, the ICC does not have a police force and only the countries which have ratified its statute (they are 108 to date) have the obligation to cooperate with it.

Bemba could thus be sent in the next few weeks to the detention centre of ICC in Scheveningen, a suburb of The Hague, The Netherlands, where three militia officials are already detained for crimes committed in eastern Congo.

He will reside in the same prison as Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia, on trial in The Hague by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

So far, the ICC Prosecutor, Ocampo, has already issued 12 arrest warrants, of which only four have been executed within the framework of the four investigations in the DRC, Uganda, Darfur and in the Central African Republic.

In an official statement, Ocampo affirmed that "nobody could escape international criminal justice. Nobody can take the side of a criminal against the victims.

Bosco Ntaganda who committed atrocities in Ituri and continues today his activities in the Kivus, Joseph Kony, of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, Ahmed Haroun, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs in Sudan, will also end up in prison, the ICC boss underscored.

After the crimes committed in the Central African Republic, other warrants will follow, disclosed the prosecutor.

The ICC prosecution, he said, was also analyzing several other situations. "We are continuing our investigations everywhere where crimes of our jurisdiction will have been committed, from Colombia to Afghanistan", Ocampo stated.


© Hirondelle News Agency