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ICC orders interim release of DR Congo warlord Bemba

Peter Dejong, AFP | Archive picture of Jean-Pierre Bemba, former vice president of DR Congo, convicted of war crimes by the International Criminal Court in 2016.

International judges Tuesday ordered the interim release of former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba who was acquitted last week of war crimes after a decade behind bars.


"Today... the International Criminal Court ordered the interim release under specific conditions for Mr Jean-Pierre Bemba," the tribunal said in a statement.

"Taking into account all relevant factors and the circumstances of the case as a whole, the Trial Chamber considers that the legal requirements for continued detention are not met," the court said.

The stocky Congolese politician was acquitted on appeal Friday by the Hague-based court, who said he could not be held criminally liable for crimes committed by his troops in the Central African Republic in 2002-2003.

The surprise decision came after Bemba, 55, had been sentenced unanimously to 18 years in 2016 by ICC trial judges.

It was the longest sentence ever to be handed down by the Hague-based court.

Then, judges found Bemba - nicknamed "Miniature Mobutu" - guilty on five counts of warcrimes and crimes against humanity committed by his private army during a five-month rampage in the neighbouring CAR.

Bemba had sent his militia, the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) - a rebel force that he later transformed into a political organisation - into the DRCongo's northern neighbour in October 2002 to quash a coup against the then president, Ange-Felix Patasse.

The trial was the first before the ICC to focus on sexual violence as a weapon of war.

It was also the first to determine whether a military commander bore responsibility for the conduct of troops under his control.

Bemba's defence lawyers argued earlier Tuesday at a hearing that he was "not a flight risk" and that "there is no legal or objective justification to separate Mr Bemba from his family for one day longer."

Bemba's lawyer Peter Haynes told journalists that the rebel commander-turned-politician planned to travel to Brussels to be reunited with his family.

Bemba has been held for the past decade at the ICC's detention centre, based in a seaside suburb of The Hague.

His interim release relates to a separate case in which he was handed one year in jail and fined 300,000 euros ($350,000) for bribing witnesses during the war crimes trial.

He lost an appeal against that sentence and the ICC is yet to decide on a new jail term, which carries a maximum of five years. Sentencing is due on July 4.

Legal experts had expected Bemba to be provisionally released given the time he has already spent in jail.



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