AFP - Seeking to avoid a war crimes trial, ex-DR Congo vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba washed his hands Thursday of members of his militia group accused of atrocities in the Central African Republic (CAR).
Bemba's lawyer told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that his men, deployed in 2002 to help put down a coup, were under the command of then CAR president Ange Felix Patasse.
"Who gave the orders and instructions? Who determined the targets? It wasn't Jean-Pierre Bemba, it was President Patasse," defence lawyer Aime Kilolo-Musamba argued on the final day of a hearing to determine whether Bemba should be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Kilolo-Musamba said Patasse's government had provided Bemba's Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) with transport, fuel, money and uniforms, while Libya supplied weapons and ammunition.
Co-ordination of the operation was done by the CAR military, he told a panel of three pre-trial judges.
Bemba, 46, unsuccessfully challenged Joseph Kabila for the presidency of the Democratic Republic of Congo in landmark 2006 elections, and was then allowed to flee the country after his private militia was routed by government forces in 2007.
He was arrested on an ICC warrant during a visit to Brussels last May.
He faces five charges of war crimes and three of crimes against humanity for rape, torture, looting and murder allegedly committed by his MLC movement.
Prosecutors claim he sent 1,000 to 1,500 troops to the CAR for his own strategic gain; to retain control of the border area between the CAR and the Congolese province of Equateur in the war between his rebels and then DR Congo leader Laurent Kabila, father of the current president.
Bemba's lawyers claim the case is part of a conspiracy to sideline him politically and that his militiamen were bona fide troops deployed to protect a democratically elected government.
The court has 60 days to decide whether he will stand trial.