Congo Leader's War Crimes Trial Starts in Hague
Ex-VP Bemba accused of leading murderous militia in 2002
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Nov 22, 2010 12:24 PM CST
Former Congolese rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, 2nd right, waves whilst leaving Saint Michel's Cathedral in Brussels, Wednesday July 8, 2009.   (AP Photo/Thierry Charlier)
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(Newser) – Congolese politician Jean-Pierre Bemba went on trial in The Hague today for war crimes, becoming the highest-ranking official to face the International Criminal Court. He's accused of leading a militia that raped, murdered, and tortured victims in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003, the New York Times reports. Bemba's 2008 arrest shocked the Congo, which largely regarded him as untouchable. Backed by a big defense team, he denies the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Prosecutors hold that Bemba created a militia to quash an uprising against the then-president of the Central African Republic; after taking over the rebel ground, his men went “from house to house, raping and pillaging, killing those who opposed them.” In such cases, said the head prosecutor, it must be shown that the defendant had “real authority and control”—he argues that Bemba was in constant contact with and management of his men. Bemba “himself created the army to gain money and power.”