/ 9 March 2010

War-crimes trial of DRC’s Bemba postponed

The trial of former Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba, due to have started on April 27, has been postponed to July 5, the International Criminal Court (ICC) said on Monday.

The delay was necessary for the court to consider a challenge by Bemba’s defence team to the admissibility of the war crimes case against him.

This process “should be undertaken in a sensible and achievable calendar”, the court said in a statement, and could not be done by the original starting date.

It would also be fair to settle the issue before the trial starts, judges said.

The 47-year-old stands accused of three charges of war crimes and two of crimes against humanity, allegedly committed in the Central African Republic (CAR) from October 2002 to March 2003.

He will stand trial for acts of murder, rape and pillaging, allegedly committed by members of his Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) while helping troops of then-CAR president Ange-Felix Patasse resist a coup attempt.

Bemba was arrested on an ICC warrant in Brussels in May 2008 and has been in the custody of the ICC in The Hague since July of that year.

In August last year, the court granted his application for a conditional release pending trial, but this was overturned on appeal in December by judges who found he posed a flight risk and a threat to witnesses.

Bemba fled the DRC after losing presidential elections held at the end of a transitional period, during which he was one of four vice-presidents, after the country’s 1998 to 2003 civil war.

He had briefly led the opposition, but was forced into exile when government forces tried to disarm his private militia in clashes that killed 300 people in March 2007. — Sapa-AFP