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Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 15:56 GMT
DR Congo rebels go on trial
MLC troops
The MLC is backed by Uganda
The trial of 19 rebel officers accused of atrocities against civilians has opened in the rebel-held town on Gbadolite, in the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Jean-Pierre Bemba
I want the greatest possible openness around this trial

MLC leader Jean-Pierre Bemba
The 17 men and two women, who belong to Jean-Pierre Bemba's Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), are accused of crimes including killing, torture, rape.

The United Nations has accused the group of cannibalism but the MLC said it had found no evidence to support these allegations and no-one has been charged with cannibalism.

Lawyers who were supposed to travel to Gbadolite for the trial on Monday, were prevented from leaving the capital, Kinshasa as the authorities there say the trial is a parody of justice.

The United Nations said last month that the MLC and two smaller factions, including the RCD-National and the RCD-ML, had committed the atrocities between October and December in the eastern Ituri province.

'Pseudo-trial'

The men on trial were arrested in January on suspicion of killing civilians.

The MLC has denied its men are guilty of acts of cannibalism and has invited UN and human rights representatives as well as journalists as evidence of its intention to hold a fair trial.

"Our investigations have found no incidents of cannibalism, and if you can find any bring them forward," Mr Bemba said.

But a government official in Kinshasa has condemned the event as a "pseudo-trial", "a whitewash with Bemba seeking to wipe out the traces".

"In the territories under rebel control, there is no military jurisdiction that is legally established and that has the authority to carry out justice," the government said in a statement on Monday.

The government has decided to take the case against the MLC to the International Criminal Court (ICC) which will start its work in The Hague next month.

Open in new window : War survivors
DR Congo's displaced generation

More than 350 witnesses and victims interviewed by the UN confirmed earlier allegations that the MLC was responsible for rape, torture, executions and cannibalism near the town of Beni.

In one case, investigators heard how a young girl was cut into small pieces by the soldiers and then eaten.

Other examples include hearts and other organs being cut out of victims and forced on their families to eat.

Central Africa too

MLC forces have also been accused of atrocities in the Central African Republic, where they helped President Ange-Felix Patasse crush a coup attempt in October last year.

Hundreds of MLC soldiers looted parts of Bangui and were accused of violence and rape after flushing the rebels out.

The Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights has filed a war crimes case against Mr Bemba with the ICC's secretariat.

A Pygmy in neighbouring Central African Republic
The Pygmies say they have been targeted by the violence

But Mr Bemba rejects the allegations of rape against his movement.

"France never came to terms with our intervention in CAR," he told the French news agency, AFP.

"I defy anyone at that court to say that Jean-Pierre Bemba raped a single girl in Central Africa, and I challenge anybody to say that I gave orders for rape."

According to the peace plan in DR Congo, Mr Bemba is to become one of the three vice-presidents in the transitional government.


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15 Jan 03 | Africa
14 Jan 03 | Africa
13 Jan 03 | Africa
06 Nov 02 | Africa
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