Victim tells ICC of 'suicidal thoughts' after CAR rape ordeal

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A war crimes victim told Tuesday how she still has "suicidal thoughts" after being abducted as a teenager and repeatedly raped during a four-year ordeal by troops commanded by Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted Bemba in March of a slew of war crimes in the Central African Republic in its first-ever case focusing on sexual violence as a weapon of war.

War crimes judges based in The Hague are holding three days of hearings to determine their sentence, which will be handed down at a later, as yet unscheduled, date.

"I am deeply depressed. I have suicidal thoughts," said the witness, who was only identified as "Victim 555" testifying by videolink from the Central African Republic's capital, Bangui.

"I was continuously raped," she said, after she was abducted by Bemba's Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) private army.

Bemba sent 1,500 of his private force to CAR to quell an attempted coup against then president Ange-Felix Patasse between October 2002 and March 2003.

The woman, who was 15 or 16 when she was abducted, at times came close to breaking down as she told how she was kept by a rebel soldier against her will for more than four years -- even after the soldiers returned to neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

When she finally managed to flee and returned to the CAR she found she was stigmatised by the experience, particularly because her aunt was also abducted and raped by the soldiers and later died of AIDS.

"I have been branded as a (rebel) wife... given that my aunt was HIV positive and died, I too was seen as HIV positive," the witness said.

She added she had had four children by four different men, with the youngsters still living with her in the CAR.

After a lengthy trial which opened in November 2010, the judges found Bemba guilty of five counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity saying he had retained "effective command and control" over his troops.

They agreed with the prosecution that MLC troops had carried out a rampage of rape and murder in CAR which deliberately targeted civilians.

Bemba could face up to 30 years in jail -- or even a life sentence, if the court set up in 2002, considers such a term is "justified by the extreme gravity of the crime".