(AFP) – Jul 3, 2008
THE HAGUE (AFP) — Former Congolese rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba arrived in the Netherlands on Thursday to face war crimes charges before the International Criminal Court.
Bemba was transferred to The Hague from Brussels where he was arrested on an ICC warrant on May 24.
He faces five counts of war crimes and three of crimes against humanity committed in the Central African Republic.
An ICC statement said Bemba had arrived at the court's detention centre and that he would make his first appearance before the tribunal on Friday.
The former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo is accused of a range of crimes allegedly committed by his men between 2002 and 2003, when his forces fought a coup attempt in the Central African Republic at the behest of then president Ange-Felix Patasse.
The charges include murder, rape, torture and pillaging.
He is the ICC's fourth detainee behind fellow DR Congo militiamen Thomas Lubanga, Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui and Germain Katanga.
"Justice is coming for the victims, for the victims of the Central African Republic, for the victims of massive sexual violence worldwide," ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said.
"We listened to them, and we transformed their painful stories into evidence. There will be no impunity.
"Jean-Pierre Bemba was a vice-president and is a senator, but has no immunity before the International Criminal Court; he will face justice," he said.
Bemba's transfer to The Hague coincided with the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Statute of Rome which gave rise to ICC's creation.
Bemba's lawyer, Aime Kilolo Musamba, said this was his client's chance to prove his innocence.
"This provides us with the opportunity to go to The Hague and present the elements of defence that we have which will help establish that Mr Bemba has no legal responsibility in this affair," he told AFP.
Richard Dicker, the director of Human Rights Watch's international justice programme, described Bemba's transfer as "a terrific moment for those in Central African Republic who suffered horrendously a few years back in Bangui (the capital)".
"It is the most welcome news to see Bemba in the Netherlands awaiting fair trial," he said.
"We look forward to further arrest warrants arising from the same situation."
The prosecutor should also look into crimes that Bemba is alleged to have committed in DR Congo, said Dicker, "and look at the chain of command, including those who could be members of the current government (of Congo)".
The ICC, meanwhile, thanked Belgian authorities for enforcing the warrant by arresting, surrendering and transferring Bemba.
"Doctors confirmed that he is in good health. He was admitted to the detention centre, informed of his rights, including the right to choose counsel from the list of counsels established by the registrar," it said.
Bemba, 45, heads a vast business empire and had been living in exile in Portugal, where he fled under United Nations protection following a shoot-out with the presidential guard in Congo which killed more than 200 people in March 2007.
That followed defeat to his fierce rival and current DR Congo President Joseph Kabila in 2006 elections.
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