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Last Updated: Friday, 16 May, 2003, 13:16 GMT 14:16 UK
Congo rebel 'smuggled servants'
Jean-Pierre Bemba
Bemba was sentenced in absentia
The rebel leader controlling the Democratic Republic of Congo's northern Equateur province has been sentenced by a Belgium court to one year in prison for "people trafficking".

Jean-Pierre Bemba - who heads the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) - has been named as one of the country's four vice presidents in a new transitional government to be sworn in next week.

Mr Bemba was tried in absentia for having brought two domestic servants into Belgium illegally in the late 1990s, when he lived in the country, the DR Congo's former colonial ruler.

He was also fined by the court but the exact amount of the fine was not immediately available.

Mr Bemba's wife was also convicted of the same offence.

'Millionaire'

The MLC at the end of April nominated Mr Bemba - a Belgian-educated millionaire businessman - as their vice president in the DR Congo's new government created under a peace pact finalised last month designed to end the country's five-year civil war.

The new government, led by President Joseph Kabila, will organise the country's first elections in more than 40 years.

The MLC was one of two main rebel groups whose insurgency in 1998 plunged DR Congo into a complex war, which at its height drew in half a dozen African countries.

The MLC - which initially made strides ending the rape and pillage carried out by government troops - was backed by Uganda.

'Cannibalism'

However, the group was accused at the end of last year of committing serious human rights violations, including cannibalism, in parts of northern DR Congo, notably in the Ituri region, which is still plagued by fighting despite the peace accord.

MLC rebels have also been accused of committing atrocities in the DR Congo's northern neighbour, the Central African Republic, where they were sent in October last year to prop up the then president Ange-Felix Patasse after a bid to oust him.

The rebels aroused the fear and hatred of Central Africans by allegedly raping and murdering civilians.

MLC rebels returned to the DR Congo in March after a successful coup in the CAR.


SEE ALSO:
DR Congo rebels go on trial
18 Feb 03  |  Africa
DRC: The prospect for peace
08 Oct 02  |  Hardtalk
Country profile: Democratic Republic of Congo
26 Apr 03  |  Country profiles


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