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Cannibalism case is ICC’s first

March 12, 2003


NAIROBI: Jean-Pierre Bemba, whose Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) controls much of northern Congo, has been referred to the international criminal court by Congo’s government and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), a French non- governmental organisation.

The Congolese government complaint follows a UN investigation into MLC attacks in the province of Ituri, which found evidence that Mr Bemba’s men had massacred — and eaten — civilians. The second deals with the MLC’s incursion into the Central African Republic last year, at the invitation of Ange-Felix Patasse. The FIDH has accused both Mr Patasse and Mr Bemba of sponsoring war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the massacre of civilians outside the Central African Republic’s capital, Bangui.

The MLC’s alleged crimes in Ituri were reported by UN investigators in language framed to suggest genocide: in an operation codenamed “Clean the Slate”, its fighters swept through the province, murdering, raping and putting more than 150,000 people to flight.

“The operation was presented to the people almost like a vaccination campaign, envisioning the looting of each home and the rape of each woman,” said Patricia Tome, a spokeswoman for the UN ceasefire monitoring mission in Congo.

“They cut out the hearts and other organs of their victims and forced families to eat them. One little girl was executed, cut into little pieces and then eaten.”

With Congo’s government exerting little control outside the capital Kinshasa, and its legal system incompetent, Mr Bemba’s case may seem a perfect curtain raiser for the new international criminal court.

Yet Congo analysts remain sceptical. Few of the nine national armies, six main rebel groups, and hordes of local militias who have fought in Congo’s four-year war have avoided accusations of similar atrocities — raising questions over why Mr Bemba should be singled out. Moreover, even if charges are filed against Mr Bemba, it is unclear who would bring him to justice.—Dawn/The Guardian News Service.