Monday, May 26, 2008

Bemba Arrested on War Crimes Charges

Former presidential candidate and vice president of the Congo was arrested on Saturday, May 24, 2008 in Beligum by Belgian authorities serving an international court warrant. Forty-five year old Bemba was arrested as a result of charges (four counts of war crimes and two counts of crimes against humanity) brought against him by International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo in May 2007.

During the midst of the conflict in the Congo, Bemba's rebel group, the Congo Liberation Movement (MLC in French) was accused of mass rape, pillaging and torture in neighboring Central African Republic while protecting former President Ange Felix Patasse from rebel attacks in 2002 led by Francois Bozize who is now President of the former French colony.

Bemba may be held for 60 - 90 days in Belgium before being transferred to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Bemba has been in exile in Portugal for over one year, even though he was elected to the Congolese senate after having lost the presidential race to rival Joseph Kabila. Bemba is in exile because he feared for his life after clashes with Kabila's presidential guard in March of 2007.

Kengo Wa Dondo, president of the Congolese senate maintains that Bemba is still a member of the Congolese parliament and will await the decision of the Belgians who are holding Bemba. Francois Mwamba of the MLC has called for the immediate and unconditional release of their party's leader. Contrary to proclamations from diplomats and experts the removal of Bemba from the Congolese political seen will deal a crucial blow to the MLC.

The more important question for the international community is how they square arresting Bemba for crimes committed in Central African Republic in 2002 when they are consorting with Larent Nkunda and dressing him up in suits while his troops continue to commit human rights abuses and violently rape women today in the Congo? The atrocities being committed by Nkunda's men far outstretch anything ever done by Bemba. Congolese people cannot help but find this whole affair duplicitous whereby Rwanda and its allies continue to be left off the hook and protected at the highest levels of Western governments and buttressed by humanitarian groups and think tanks in Washington while the Congolese people continue to suffer and die.

The truth of the matter is that Rebel leaders dating back to 1996 have the blood of Congolese people on their hands. Although not widely reported in the media it is these rebels that western backers have thrown their financial and material resources behind at the expense of the non-violent pro-democracy forces and the people of the Congo. It was no accident that Jean Pierre Bemba and Joseph Kabila wound up in a run-off for the presidency in 2006.

Key Sources:
International Criminal Court Statement


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