Brussels, 29 May 2008 (FH) - The Court Chambers of Brussels ordered Wednesday the continued detention of the former Vice-President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba.

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Bemba, leader of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), main Congolese opposition figure, was arrested on 24 May in his villa of Rhodes-Saint-Genesis, in the Brussels region, following an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The lawyers for Bemba appealed the decision of the Court Chambers. They had asked the Court to grant their client bail, whereas the federal prosecution recommended his continued detention until his transfer to the ICC detention centre in Scheveningen, in the suburbs of The Hague.

The ICC accuses Jean-Pierre Bemba of crimes against humanity and war crimes; the charges include, inter alias, rape, acts of torture and looting against civilian populations committed in 2002 and 2003 in the Central African Republic by his men, who then supported the threatened regime of President Ange-Felix Patasse, deposed on 15 March 2003 by General Francois Bozize.

According to his counsels, the arrest procedure was not respected. During his hearing before an investigating magistrate, none of them, told of the hearing too late, could assist the Congolese senator. "Assistance, specified Pierre Legros that envisages article 59 of the Rome Statute of the ICC."

In support of their request, they had also put forward the "many guarantees" which Jean-Pierre Bemba would offer: "He can first of all pay a guarantee. Then, he lives in Belgium where he is a house owner, where his wife and his children live and are in school.

As leader of the Congolese opposition, he is a public figure who has an agenda filled with meetings and conferences in the Schengen area, where he could be apprehended anywhere", detailed Legros, who explained to the Hirondelle Agency why his client did not intend to withdraw himself from justice and made it a point of defending himself against the ICC charges before the Court.

Furthermore, added Aimé Kilolo Musamba, "Mr. Bemba was aware for more than a year that an investigation had been officially opened against him" by the ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo. "If he had wanted to escape, he would have had the time to do so."

The federal prosecution, for its part, was satisfied to underline the regularity of the arrest and detention: "For us, it is only procedure, it is not substance."

"And the Court Chambers, if it can implicitly take into account the guarantees offered by a defendant, concerns itself above all with the examination of possible voiding factors and also justifies its orders only on respected questions of laws", explained the spokesperson for the prosecution, who added that, in all events, "granting bail would have been astonishing for such an important case".

Following the appeal of Jean-Pierre Bemba's counsels, the Court of Criminal Appeal should render a judgment on the same issue in a week or two.


© Hirondelle News Agency