International Criminal Court delays trial of former Congo vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba

Monday, March 8, 2010

Bemba war crimes trial delayed

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The International Criminal Court announced Monday it has delayed the start of the war crimes trial of former Congo vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba by more than two months after he claimed his case was inadmissible.

Bemba is charged with five counts of murder, rape and pillage for allegedly commanding a militia responsible for atrocities in the Central African Republic in 2002-2003. He has not entered a plea.

His trial had been slated to start April 27 but has now been pushed back to July 5.

Last month, Bemba’s lawyers challenged the admissibility of his case in a confidential motion filed at the world’s first permanent war crimes court.

They argue that the case is not serious enough to be heard in The Hague and that authorities in Central African Republic either have investigated or are planning to investigate it. Bemba also is claiming abuse of process. Further details of the defense claims have not yet been made public, court spokeswoman Sonia Robla said.

The court said in a statement that Bemba’s challenge to the case’s admissibility would be discussed at a hearing on April 27, the date the trial was to have started.

Bemba is the most senior political figure in the court’s custody. He ruled a vast chunk of northeastern Congo during that country’s 1998-2002 war, with support from neighboring Uganda. After a peace agreement ended the war, he became one of the country’s four vice presidents in a reunited Congo.

Bemba was arrested in Belgium and transferred to the court in The Hague in July 2008.

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