Bemba arrested for war crimes

2008-05-25 14:03

The Hague - Jean-Pierre Bemba, formerly vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, was in custody in Belgium on Sunday after being arrested on a war crimes warrant from the International Criminal Court.

"Jean-Pierre Bemba was arrested at around eight in the evening in a Brussels suburb," ICC prosecutor Beatrice Le Fraper told AFP late Saturday.

"We are waiting for Belgian authorities to order his transfer to the ICC," in The Hague, she added.

Bemba was arrested on a warrant that listed four charges of war crimes and two of crimes against humanity, all allegedly committed in the Central African Republic.

Charges of high treason

Although the arrest warrant was originally issued on May 16, Bemba had no warning of it because it had not been made public.

"The warrant of arrest for Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo is the first warrant issued in the situation in the Central African Republic," said a statement from the ICC posted on its website.

But prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo made it clear that the investigation was ongoing and it would not be the only warrant issued in the case.

Bemba, now 45, was one of four vice-presidents in a transitional government in DRCongo between 2003 and 2006.

The multi-millionaire businessman led the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) rebel group, which later converted itself into a political party.

In 2002, Bemba's group was asked by former president Ange-Felix Patasse of the neighbouring Central African Republic to come into his country and put down a coup attempt.

Once that had been done, the 1 000-strong MLC force was accused of installing a reign of terror.

After Patasse was ousted the following year, his successor pressed charges against Bemba of rape and murder, though Bemba consistently denied the charges.

Eventually the government of the Central African Republic referred the case to the International Criminal Court based in The Hague.

The ICC warrant for the alleged crimes cover the period between October 25, 2002 to March 15, 2003.

During that period, said an ICC statement, MLC forces led by Bemba carried out widespread attacks against the civilian population.

The offences included "rape, torture, outrages upon personal dignity and pillaging," it added.

"The high number of rapes committed by the troops of the MLC with an indescribable brutality is a particular characteristic of this affair," Moreno-Ocampo said Saturday.

And Bemba was responsible for similar crimes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he added.

Of the victims, he said: "We cannot wipe away their wounds. But we can give them justice.

"The testimony of the victims will serve as evidence. The victims will come to tell their story to the court," he added.

In recent months, Bemba had been living in exile in Portugal after his defeat in DRC's presidential election in October 2006. He is facing charges of high treason in his country.