DR Congo ex-vice prez goes on trial for atrocities

Bemba, 48, is charged with 3 counts of war crimes and 2 of crimes against humanity for the alleged atrocities.

Hague: DR Congo ex-vice president
Jean-Pierre Bemba goes on trial Monday for rapes and murders
allegedly committed by his troops, in a case seen as a warning
that leaders will be prosecuted for the sexual violence of
their soldiers.

Around 1,500 fighters terrorised the civilian
population of the Central African Republic between October
2002 and March 2003 with children as young as 8 and the
elderly among the victims, prosecutors say.

After conquering areas rebel-held areas, the troops
moved from house to house in small groups "raping, pillaging
and killing", International Criminal Court chief prosecutor
Luis Moreno-Ocampo told journalists ahead of the trial which
is scheduled to last several months.

Bemba, 48, is charged with 3 counts of war crimes
and 2 of crimes against humanity for the alleged atrocities.

Members of his Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC)
allegedly perpetrated the offences helping troops of the then
Central African Republic (CAR) president Ange-Felix Patasse
resist a coup led by Francois Bozize.

"It is the first time in the history of international
justice that a military commander is on trial on the basis of
indirect criminal responsibility for rapes committed by his
fighters," an official in the prosecutor`s office said.

The case should serve as an "example" for others who
lead fighters in war, he said.

"Military commanders who let their men rape must know
that they can be prosecuted" even if they are far removed from
their soldiers on the ground.

Prosecutors say that about 400 rapes were recorded in
Bangui, the CAR capital, in five months of fighting.

"People who allege they were raped include men and
women, children and old people," said Paolina Massidda,
principal counsel in the ICC`s office of public counsel for
victims. "The victims` ages vary from eight years to 70

Bemba was "the MLC president and the supreme
authority, treating the MLC as his own enterprise," according
to the charge sheet.

"Bemba was the sole decision-making authority who
exercised control over all military matters."

But his defence lawyer, Aime Kilolo, said the MLC
"fought in the uniform of the Central African Republic and
under its flag, it was the Central African authorities who
were in charge of command and discipline."

So far, 135 victims have been authorised to
participate in the trial, represented by two lawyers. Another
1,200 others are waiting to be recognised as victims, who may
also seek reparations.