The Hague, October 27, 2011 (FH) - A mechanic from the Central African company for river traffic on the Oubangui - Société centrafricaine des transports fluviaux (SOCATRAF) - explained on Thursday that it took him nineteen nights in a row to transport Congolese militiamen with their guns and ammunition across the river from Zongo to Bangui.

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Cyprien-Francis Ossibouyen was the 32nd Prosecution witness testifying in Jean-Pierre Bemba's trial before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Speaking in French, he explained that one night in October 2002, he was awakened by SOCATRAF's technical director, a Frenchman, who was accompanied by "36 armed men". They took him to Bangui's river port where the mechanic was urged to repair the ferryboat operating between the Central African capital and Zongo, on the Congolese side.

He was then requested to cross the river at dawn. Militiamen were waiting for the ferry in Zongo. "Their leader told them: "The country before you is at war! As soon as you will reach the middle of the river you will be in the Central African Republic. You have no children there! No women! No families! Destroy everything. We are at war. Comes peace, they will rebuild their country".

Ossibouyen went on: "They were very happy to be given these orders. They brandished their guns in agreement".

Following that morning, the witness had to shuttle back and forth during nineteen nights, taking men and ammunition from Zongo to Bangui, and later wounded soldiers from Bangui to Zongo.

"It wasn't easy!", he recalled. Wounded militiamen didn't want to wait for their commander, warrant officer Odon, to approve their evacuation. "They threatened me", the witness explained.

The hearing will resume on Friday. The Prosecutor is expected to call eight more witnesses before closing its evidence in February 2012.

Jean-Pierre Bemba is charged for crimes against humanity and crimes of war committed by his militia in Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003. He was incarcerated in The Hague on July 3, 2008. His trial opened in November 2010.


© Hirondelle News Agency