The Hague, November 19, 2010 (FH) - Trial of Congolese politician Jean-Pierre Bemba will open on Monday before the International Criminal Court (ICC). President and Commander-in-chief of the Mouvement de libération du Congo (Movement for the Liberation of Congo, MLC), Bemba is also a Senator of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

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Jean-Pierre Bemba was arrested at his home in Brussels outskirts on May 24, 2008 and transferred to the ICC on July 3rd.

He is allegedly responsible, as military commander of the MLC, of two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes, including murder, rape and pillaging committed in Central African Republic (CAR) between October 26, 2002 and March 15, 2003.

Jean-Pierre Bemba had sent his troops to Bangui in 2002 to rescue Ange-Felix Patasse's regime, threatened by a rebellion led by General François Bozize - today in power.

Patassé had sought help from different groups of mercenaries to save his regime. However, only the MLC troops have been indicted so far by the ICC.

Despite the fact that the MLC was involved for several years in the Congolese civil war, Jean-Pierre Bemba is only charged for his command responsibility in criminal acts allegedly committed by his men in CAR.

"Numerous women contracted HIV or got pregnant after being raped or gang raped", alleges the Prosecutor. The indictment also states that "men were also raped as part of a deliberate humiliation tactic, and to show their inability to protect their families".

According to Bemba's lawyers, Aimé Kilolo from Brussels and Richard Nkwebe Liriss from Kinshasa, this trial is purely political. They state that "giving Bemba to the ICC was the ideal solution for Kabila [RDC's president] in order to avoid to face him in a future electoral challenge".

At the beginning of the proceedings, prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo was also targeting former president Ange-Felix Patassé. However, no arrest warrant was finally delivered against him, "for lack of evidence", says the prosecution. Ange-Felix Patassé is currently a candidate for CAR Presidential election, expected on January 23, 2011.

135 victims will be represented at the opening of the trial on Monday. The court is still supposed to give an answer to the requests of 1200 other Central African alleged victims.

Some Congolese victims had asked the court to extend the charges against Bemba to crimes committed in 2002 in Ituri (Eastern Congo) but their request was rejected on October 25 on grounds that the Prosecution had not finished yet its investigation in Ituri.


© Hirondelle News Agency