Congo's Bemba accused at Hague of ordering rape

Mon Jan 12, 2009 12:48pm GMT

By Reed Stevenson

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - International Criminal Court prosecutors accused former Congolese rebel warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba of ordering mass rape to terrorise civilians at a hearing on Monday to decide whether he will face trial.

Bemba, 46, faces three counts of crimes against humanity and five counts of war crimes, and is the highest-profile suspect to date brought before the world's first permanent war crimes court, set up in 2002.

Bemba is accused of leading rebels from Democratic Republic of Congo in a campaign of torture, rape and murder in neighbouring Central African Republic. He was arrested in Belgium last May.

The hearing on Monday was to decide whether there was enough evidence to proceed with a trial. Bemba denies the charges.

The charges focus on the period between 2002 and 2003 when Ange-Felix Patasse, president of the Central African Republic at the time, asked Bemba's Congolese Liberation Movement to put down coup attempts in his country.

"Bemba's men went from house to house, pillaging and raping mothers, wives and daughters," said prosecutor Petra Kneuer.

Bemba's troops were instructed to "traumatise and terrorise" the population to prevent them from supporting any resistance against Patasse, the prosecution said.

"To do this, he (Bemba) chose rape as his main method," Kneuer said.   Continued...

<p>Former Congolese warlord and vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba appears before the war crimes court in The Hague, January 12, 2009. REUTERS/Michael Kooren</p>
Powered by Reuters AlertNet. AlertNet provides news, images and insight from the world's disasters and conflicts and is brought to you by Reuters Foundation.