The Hague, August 14, 2012 (FH) - The first defence witness testifying in Jean-Pierre Bemba’s trial before the International Criminal Court (ICC) was called to the stand today as a military expert. A retired French general, Jacques Seara told the court it would have been impossible to have several chains of command during the conflict.

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Bemba, the president and commander-in-chief of the “Mouvement de Libération du Congo” and former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is charged with crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and war crimes (murder, rape and pillaging) allegedly committed in the Central African Republic in 2002-2003.

His lawyers argue that his forces were under CAR command when the atrocities were committed.

Jacques Seara told the court he had never been in Central African Republic (CAR) but was able to meet Congolese and Central-African officers to prepare his expertise on command structures during hostilities. “Operational command fell under the Central African Republic for the duration of the conflict," he explained.

According to him, it was impossible for the various forces active in the conflict to have had different chains of command, as this would have led to chaos and possible incidents of friendly fire: “I can not see how there could have been several chains of command whereas the objective was one – liberate Bangui and push back the rebel forces to the Chadian border.”

"You cannot imagine that in this kind of conflict a group (like the MLC) was working on its own. "They did not fight a war for themselves, but a war in which the CAR wanted to re-establish a state of law," he added

Bemba’s trial opened in November 2010. His testimony will resume on Wednesday.