Nov 19 (Reuters) - The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague will start its war crimes trial of Congolese warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba on Monday, having rejected an appeal from his lawyers to dismiss the case.
Bemba, 48, faces two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes, and is the most high-profile suspect to be brought before the world’s first permanent war crimes court to date.
Here are some key facts on Bemba:
— Bemba was born on Nov. 4, 1962, to wealthy parents. His father Saolona’s SCIBE Zaire conglomerate was Congo’s biggest company with more than 10,000 employees in the days of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, and the family comes from Mobutu’s home province of Equateur.
— He was sent to boarding school in Brussels at the age of six. Later, after getting an MBA, he returned to Kinshasa to set up his own air cargo and cellphone companies, soon becoming a millionaire in his own right.
— In 1997, when Mobutu was overthrown, Bemba went into exile. During Congo’s 1998-2003 war, Bemba headed the Ugandan-backed Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) and, with Ugandan army backing, seized vast swathes of eastern Congo, financing much of his campaign through sales of diamonds.
— His was the first rebel group to sign peace deals with President Joseph Kabila. The MLC became a political party and, in 2003, Bemba was sworn in as vice-president.
— Bemba was defeated in 2006 in Congo’s first democratic elections in 40 years, despite a Supreme Court challenge. Bemba said he would go into political opposition “to preserve peace and save the country from chaos and violence”.
— Bemba’s fighters defied a government order to disarm and heavy fighting broke out in Kinshasa. The state prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for Bemba, accusing him of high treason, killings and rape.
— Bemba left Congo in April 2007 saying he feared for his life after clashes the previous month in Kinshasa between his militia and Kabila’s presidential guard.
— He was detained in Brussels in May 2008 by Belgian authorities executing an ICC warrant. He was brought to the Hague in July to face charges of leading Congolese rebels into a campaign of rape and torture in the neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002-03.
— The ICC’s prosecutor charged Bemba with two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes for leading troops into the Central African Republic at the invitation of its then president, Ange-Felix Patasse, to put down coup attempts.
Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit;