Witness recalls rapes, killings in Bemba ICC trial

Wed Nov 24, 2010 5:24am GMT

By Aaron Gray-Block

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The militia of former Congo vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba raped young girls at a school in the Central African Republic, and also robbed and beat civilians, a witness told the International Criminal Court on Tuesday.

Bemba, 48, went on trial at the ICC on Monday charged with letting his troops rape and kill civilians in the Central African Republic in a five-month intervention in the country to help put down coup attempts against its then president.

He has pleaded not guilty to two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes.

The first prosecution witness, a witness whose face and voice were disguised, said he started resisting Bemba's rebels after being confronted by rapes, shootings and pillaging.

"I remember one day ... when a woman brought me her daughter of eight or nine years old who had been raped. It was very difficult ... I saw that this girl was bleeding, but what could I do when faced with such a situation?" the witness said.

"The school became a place where orgies were held," the witness added, citing other witness comments. "It was horrible to explain to another person, but to experience such things..."

He said people were stopped on the street and robbed of everything, including their clothing, and repeatedly beaten if they did not have anything of value to steal.

At one point, the witness lost composure, prompting presiding judge Sylvia Steiner to ask whether he was feeling comfortable enough to continue. "I believe so," he replied.   Continued...

<p>Congolese rebel warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba is seen at the International Criminal Court in The Hague December 2, 2009. REUTERS/Ed Oudenaarden/Pool</p>
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