DRC says Bemba can get diplomatic passport after acquittal

2018-06-25 20:06
Jean-Pierre Bemba (File, AP)

Jean-Pierre Bemba (File, AP)

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The Democratic of Republic of Congo on Monday said former DRC vice president and warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba can apply for a diplomatic passport to return home after he was acquitted of war crimes in The Hague.

Bemba's acquittal has added a further ingredient to the DRC's volatile political mix, stoking speculation that he will contest the December 23 presidential elections.

But questions have remained as to whether he intends to return home and if the authorities would allow it.

Foreign Minister Leonard She Okitundu, in a letter, said "the honourable senator" could "send his protocol agent to our embassy in Brussels to obtain a form to apply for a diplomatic passport."

The letter was sent to the president of the senate, Leon Kengo Wa Dondo, who had made the request regarding a diplomatic passport for Bemba.

The DRC is in the grip of a crisis over the future of President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the country since 2001 and has remained in office, despite a two-term constitutional limit that expired in December 2016.

He has remained in power under a constitutional clause that enables a president to stay in office until his or her successor is elected.

Bemba's party is to hold a congress in Kinshasa on July 12 and 13 which will decide on whether it will put forward a candidate for the December 23 elections.

On June 8, judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC), overturned a 2016 conviction against Bemba for five counts of war crimes committed by his militia in the Central African Republic in 2002-2003.

They said he could not be held criminally liable for atrocities they committed, which included murder, rape and looting, as he was unable to influence their conduct.

He had been given an 18-year term, the longest ever to be handed down by the court.

Bemba is currently in Belgium after gaining an interim release from the court.

The ICC is to issue a ruling on July 4 in a separate case in which he was sentenced to a one-year jail sentence and fined $350 000 in 2017 for bribing witnesses during his main war crimes trial.

However, he has already spent a decade behind bars, and legal experts expect him to be released definitively if his time is taken into account.

On June 17, Okitundu had said Bemba "can return" home if he wanted to.

It remains unclear whether he faces any threat of prosecution if he sets foot on DRC soil, after authorities issued a warrant in 2007 against him over the violence and for alleged arson at the Supreme Court.

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Read more on:    international criminal court  |  drc  |  central africa

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