Court gives bail to Congo’s Bemba

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has ordered the conditional release of Congolese ex-Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba ahead of his war crimes trial.

However, the court said he would not be freed until it was decided which country would host him.

Mr Bemba, who led a rebel group during the Democratic Republic of Congo’s civil war, was arrested in Belgium last year and extradited to The Hague.

The charges relate to unrest in the Central African Republic.

Mr Bemba says his troops were not under his command once they crossed the border into CAR to help then-President Ange-Felix Patasse put down a coup attempt in 2002.

After a peace deal in DR Congo in 2003, Mr Bemba laid down his arms and joined an interim government as vice-president.

Conditions

An ICC statement said a pre-trial chamber had found that Mr Bemba’s continued detention was not necessary:

JEAN-PIERRE BEMBA
Son of famous businessman
Former assistant to former Zaire leader Mobutu Sese Seko
1998: Helped by Uganda to former MLC rebel group
2003: Becomes vice-president under peace deal
2006: Loses run-off election to President Joseph Kabila but gets most votes in western DR Congo
2007: Flees after clashes in Kinshasa

• To ensure his appearance at his trial

• To ensure he did not hamper court proceedings

• Or to prevent him “from continuing with the commission of the same or related crimes”.

The court said hearings to decide which country would take Mr Bemba and to decide on the conditions of his release would be held in the second week of September.

In June, a pre-trial panel of judges found that there was sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe that Mr Bemba was “criminally responsible” for murders, rapes and pillaging.

Fighters from his Movement for the Liberation of Congo were accused of committing these atrocities when they intervened in the conflict in CAR.

He is to face trial on three counts of war crimes and two of crimes against humanity.

One of his defence lawyers has suggested that the charges may be politically motivated, to remove Mr Bemba from future elections in DR Congo.

He lost a landmark run-off election against President Joseph Kabila in 2006.

He later fled the country after being charged with treason after his bodyguards clashed with the army in 2007.

[original]

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