Mon, May 26, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Bemba arrested on war crimes charges

AFP , THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS

Former presidential candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba greets his supporters after casting his vote during the second round of the presidential election in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo on Oct. 29, 2006.

PHOTO: EPA

Jean-Pierre Bemba, formerly vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), was in custody in Belgium on Sunday after being arrested on a war crimes warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“Jean-Pierre Bemba was arrested at around eight in the evening in a Brussels suburb,” ICC prosecutor Beatrice Le Fraper said late on Saturday.

“We are waiting for Belgian authorities to order his transfer to the ICC,” in The Hague, she said.

The tribunal expected Bemba would go before a Belgian judge in the next few days and that he would be transferred to the ICC in a matter of weeks.

Bemba was arrested on a warrant that listed four charges of war crimes and two of crimes against humanity, all allegedly committed in the Central African Republic.

Although the arrest warrant was originally issued on May 16, Bemba had no warning of it because it had not been made public.

“The warrant of arrest for Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo is the first warrant issued in the situation in the Central African Republic,” said a statement from the ICC posted on its Web site.

But prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo made it clear that the investigation was ongoing and it would not be the only warrant issued in the case.

Bemba, now 45, was one of four vice-presidents in a transitional government in DR Congo between 2003 and 2006.

The multi-millionaire businessman led the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) rebel group, which later converted itself into a political party.

In 2002, Bemba’s group was asked by former president Ange-Felix Patasse of the Central African Republic to come into his country and put down a coup attempt.

Once that had been done, the 1,000-strong MLC force was accused of installing a reign of terror.

After Patasse was ousted the following year, his successor pressed charges against Bemba of rape and murder, though Bemba consistently denied the charges.

Eventually, the government of the Central African Republic referred the case to the ICC.

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