- DR Congo - ICC - international justice - war crimes
AFP - The International Criminal Court ruled Monday that former DR Congo vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba will stand trial on five charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
A pre-trial panel of judges "found that there is sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe that Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo is criminally responsible" for murder, rape and pillaging, said a court statement.
They "referred the case for trial" on three counts of war crimes and two of crimes against humanity for atrocities allegedly committed in the Central African Republic from October 2002 to March 2003 by militia commanded by Bemba.
Bemba, 46, appeared before the ICC in The Hague in January for a hearing to confirm charges against him, following his arrest on an ICC warrant during a visit to Brussels in May 2008.
After a years-long civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bemba became one of four vice-presidents in a transitional government ahead of landmark 2006 elections.
The Belgian-educated son of a rich businessman unsuccessfully challenged Joseph Kabila for the presidency.
He then led the opposition, but was forced into exile when government forces tried to disarm his private militia in clashes that killed 300 in March 2007.
Prosecutors claim Bemba had sent 1,000 to 1,500 troops to the CAR to retain control of the border area with the Congolese province of Equateur in a war between his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) and then DR Congo leader Laurent Kabila, father of the current president.
While there, the prosecution alleges that MLC militia brutally gang-raped men, women and children, and tortured and murdered civilians.
Prosecutors had sought to try him on five counts of war crimes and three of crimes against humanity.
But the judges ruled on Monday that there was not sufficient evidence for charges of torture or outrages upon personal dignity.
Bemba had argued before the court in January that MLC militia in the Central African Republic had not been under his command when deployed to help put down a coup.
His lawyers told the court the men were under the command of then-CAR president Ange Felix Patasse, whose government provided their transport, fuel, money and uniforms, while Libya supplied the weapons and ammunition.
They claimed the case was part of a conspiracy to sideline Bemba politically.
But in their decision Monday, the pre-trial judges said there was evidence that Bemba "actually knew about the occurrence of the crimes".
As a military commander, he had failed to prevent "the commission by the MLC troops of the crimes against humanity of murder and rape and the war crimes of murder, rape and pillaging".