Belgian officials arrested Jean-Pierre Bemba, former vice-president of the DR of Congo, on a warrant by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. Bemba is accused of leading a campaign of rape and torture in his homeland.
Supporters of ex-Democratic Republic of Congo presidential candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba accused the International Criminal Court of "politicisation" of its remit Sunday amid moves to extradite him on war crimes charges.
Belgian officials arrested 45-year-old Bemba late Saturday in a Brussels suburb on four charges of war crimes and two of crimes against humanity -- the first indictment by the court (ICC) over unrest in the Central African Republic (CAR).
One of four vice-presidents in a transitional Congolese government between 2003 and 2006, Bemba led the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) rebel group, which later became the country's main political opposition party.
MLC secretary-general Francois Muamba read out a statement on Sunday which accused the ICC of politicising its remit, calling for Bemba's immediate release.
The group's leaders said they had to "note, with regret, the politicisation of judicial proceedings initiated by the ICC prosecutor."
Muamba asked why former CAR President Ange-Felix Patasse and his military chief of staff, "who benefitted from the reinforcements brought by MLC troops," were not themselves under arrest.
MLC deputy head Francois Muamba had earlier stated: "We didn't expect this. It's a nasty surprise."
In 2002, Bemba's group was asked by Patasse to help put down a coup attempt, but once that was achieved, the 1,000-strong MLC force was accused of installing a reign of terror.
After Patasse was ousted in 2003, the new government under his successor asked the ICC to intervene.
A statement by the ICC in The Hague said personnel led by Bemba carried out widespread attacks against civilians including "rape, torture, outrages upon personal dignity and pillaging" between October 2002 and March 2003.
"We cannot remove the (victims') injuries, but we can give them justice," the ICC prosecutor's statement added. "The testimony of the victims will be proof enough."
Bemba, who heads a vast business empire, had been living in exile in Portugal, where he fled under United Nations protection following a shoot-out with the presidential guard which killed more than 200 people in March 2007.
That followed Bemba's defeat to President Jospeh Kabila in 2006 elections. A Congolese arrest warrant on charges of high treason technically remains in force even though as a senator, he theoretically held parliamentary immunity.
The government of CAR said only that it "noted what the ICC is doing," preferring to let proceedings run their course.
In 2007, the Organisation for Compassion and the Developments of Families in Distress in CAR found 1,045 victims, of whom 480 were women or girls who had been raped.
In Bangui, following news of Bemba's arrest, women victims recalled their experiences, wishing to remain anonymous.
"They fired at my husband and wounded him in the collar bone," said one. "An attacker told me to shut up and slapped me. Then he forced me to the ground.
"I tried to defend myself but another man put his gun to my head, saying he would shoot if I carried on resisting.
"Both of them raped me. My husband banished me from the house afterwards because of the rapes."
Another woman told AFP: "I was raped together with my two daughters. One of my daughters died of AIDS last year because of what happened to us."
Bemba went before a Belgian judge on Sunday, who ordered that he remain in detention, federal prosecution service spokeswoman Lieve Pellens said.
Belgium has five days to check that full legal criteria have been met, at which point Bemba can appeal.
The ICC must then upgrade its warrant to trigger extradition proceedings with a further Belgian decision required before he can be transferred to the UN remand centre outside The Hague.
Pellens said that these legal maneouvres would take "one to two months."
Date created : 2008-05-25