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ICC launches fund for victims of Bemba militia

Sh118 billion to be dispensed to people who suffered at the hands of the former Congolese vice president

The Hague, Wednesday

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has launched a one-million-euro (Sh118 billion) fund for victims of a militia once run by former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba, it said on Wednesday.

The fund — announced after Bemba was acquitted on war-crimes charges — will be dispensed to people who suffered at the hands of Bemba militia in the Central African Republic (CAR), the ICC’s director in CAR, Mike Cole, told a press conference.

The serious crimes committed in CAR “have not been forgotten,” he said. The violence took place over a timeframe of five months in 2002-2003, at a time when the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was in the grip of a war that sucked in neighbouring countries.

Bemba at that time was leader of a militia called the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) — a 1,500-strong force backed by neighbouring Uganda and opposed to DRC President Joseph Kabila.

He sent his men into CAR October 2002 to quash a coup against the then president, Ange-Felix Patasse.There, they committed murder, rape and looting — crimes for which Bemba was later convicted at the ICC.

Bemba was acquitted Friday and his 18-year sentence was overturned, but he remained in custody because he is awaiting a final sentencing in another case in which he was convicted of interfering with witnesses.

Noting that Bemba already has served more than 80 per cent of the maximum five-year sentence he faces in the witness tampering case, judges ruled that it was “disproportionate to further detain Bemba merely to ensure his appearance for sentencing,” the court said in a statement.

Bemba left the ICC detention centre today after being given provisional release pending sentencing in a different case involving witness tampering.

The ICC’s Trust Fund for Victims in the CAR was initially unveiled in 2013 but failed to become operational because of the “security situation” there, its board said on today.

It said it now planned to “accelerate the launch” of the programme, and appealed for voluntary commissions to boost coffers.

Aid will take the form of “physical and psychological rehabilitation, as well as material support,” for victims and their families.

“You are not forgotten. The harms you have suffered are recognised and urgently call for a meaningful response,” the Trust Fund for Victims said in a message to victims.                                            — AFP

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