African Press International (API)

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Genocide haunts DRC politician held for war crimes

Posted by African Press International on May 27, 2008

Publisher: Korir, africanpress@getmail.no source.aljazeera

Charges against Bemba specifically point to mass rapes allegedlycarried out by his forces [AP]

Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has been arrested in Belgium on a warrant for war crimes committed in the Central African Republic.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) said on Saturday that it holds him responsible for four counts of war crimes and two counts of crimes against humanity.
A statement on the ICC website said the alleged crimes took place “on the territory of the Central African Republic from 25 October 2002 to 15 March 2003”.
Bemba, who lost a disputed 2006 election to Joseph Kabila, the DRC president, fled into exile last year saying he feared for his life.

The charges against him specifically point to a campaign of killings and mass rapes of civilians allegedly carried out by his forces.
Militia intervention
Members of Bemba’s Mouvement de liberation du Congo (MLC), who also fought in the DRC’s 1998-2003 war, intervened in Central African Republic in support of thenleader Ange Felix Patasse.
The Central African Republicpresidentwasbattling opposition forces led by Francois Bozize, who subsequently toppled Patasse in a 2003 coup and is the current head of state.

Both Bemba, who had been in exile in Portugal, and Patasse, who lives in exile in Togo, deny the war-crimes accusations.

There was no immediate reaction to Bemba’s arrest inBrussels from theDRC government, which has recalled its ambassador fromBelgium in a growing diplomatic dispute with its small former colonial ruler.

Relations between the two countries have been strained since Karel De Gucht, the Belgian foreign minister, criticised Kabila’s government last monthover human rights, corruption and its dealings with China.

Pursuing suspects

Bemba is the first person arrested under an ICC investigation in the Central African Republic, which was opened byLuis Moreno-Ocampo, the court’s chief prosecutor,in May 2007.

The ICC, which is based in The Hague and started work in 2002 as the world’s first permanent war crimes court, is also pursuing war crimes prosecutions against suspects in the DRC, Uganda and in Sudan, relating to its war-torn western Darfur region.

The ICC says thescars of abuse willbe hard
toerase butjustice is possible[EPA]

He thanked Belgium for executing the ICC arrest warrant against Bemba.

Moreno-Ocampo visitedthe Central African Republicin February to hear testimony from victims of the sexual violence which accompanied the fighting in the capital Bangui in 2002-2003 between government troops and opposition fighters.

Rapes outnumbered other crimes, with young girls and old women being gang-raped in public places, the ICC said.

Warning to all

Moreno-Ocampo said Bemba’s arrest is a warning to all those who commit, encourage or tolerate sexual crimes.

“There are no excuses for hundreds of rapes. There are no excuses for the rape of a little girl, with her parents watching,” he said.

“There are no excuses for commanders ordering, authorising or acquiescing to the commission of rapes and looting by their forces.

“We have evidence that Mr Bemba committed crimes.

“I went to CAR, I met the victims, those who survived the violence, those who survived Aids. We cannot erase the scars.

“But we can give them justice … The victims will tell their stories in court.”

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API

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