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Thursday, 20th September 2018
2:31:24pm

Central Africa

Articles related to Central Africa

Congolese ex-vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba will appeal his sentence for bribing war crimes witnesses and hopes to overturn his conviction in a case which has barred him from elections, his lawyer said on Wednesday.

The International Criminal Court on Monday confirmed a one-year sentence and $350 000 fine against Bemba for tampering with witnesses in his main trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Any fresh appeal will however come too late to get Bemba on the official list of candidates for the Democratic Republic of Congo's December 23 election, from which he has been barred by the bribery conviction.

"It is my intention to appeal the decision issued by the Trial Chamber" within the 30-day deadline allowed by the ICC, Bemba's lawyer Melinda Taylor said in an email to AFP.

Bemba has already lost an earlier appeal, but Taylor said Bemba had a right to make a fresh challenge as Monday's decision was by lower trial judges, and not the ICC's higher appeals chamber.

"I have also identified several grounds of appeal which could, if upheld by the Appeals Chamber, result in the termination of the (bribery) case against Mr Bemba," she added.

Bemba was freed from a decade in jail in The Hague and made a triumphant return home after his separate conviction for war crimes and humanity was itself overturned on appeal in June.

He had been condemned in 2016 to an 18-year jail term for murder, rape and pillaging by his private army in the neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002-2003.

But the Congolese election commission has since excluded Bemba from December elections because of the the conviction for bribery, corruption and coaching 14 defence witnesses during his main war crimes trial.

The panel is expected to give the green light to opposition figures Felix Tshisekedi and Vital Kamerhe, as well as to Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a hardline former interior minister backed by President Joseph Kabila, Bemba's main rival.

Bemba was found guilty in 2016 in the witness tampering case along with four other people, and the ICC's appeals chamber rejected his appeal against the original conviction and sentence in March this year.

The appeals judges also sent the case back to trial judges for re-sentencing as they said the original penalties were too low, but the trial judges reconfirmed their earlier sentences on Monday.

-AFP

The Democratic Republic of Congo's state-run television announced on Monday it had fired two reporters who covered an opposition leader's press conference in defiance of editorial policy.

The journalist and cameramen went to report on the head of the Congo National Liberation Front who laid down what some local media called an "ultimatum" to President Joseph Kabila on August 22.

Their story on the front president Elie Kapend Kanyimbu, a former rebel chief and comrade of Kabila's father, was not aired by the National Radio and Television of Congo (RTNC) network.

He was arrested the following day. 

"We are sacking them because they did not follow editorial policy," said deputy chief executive Freddy Mulumba.

"They went and covered the press conference of Eddie Kapend who was threatening the institutions.

"And our editorial policy is very clear: defend the institutions and the Congo."

The two journalists had been spoken and listened to on the record, Mulumba added.

Press freedom group Journalist in Danger (JED) condemned the sackings, which included a free-lance editor, as "abusive".

JED said their work contracts were torn up without notice for filming "footage calling for rebellion and eluding the watchfulness of the chain of command" at the channel.

The group voiced fears the sackings would lead to greater censorship of state media ahead of the December 23 elections.

President Kabila, in power since 2001, has said he will not run again. But he has been accused of trying to prevent rivals from standing in the election and named his ex-interior minister Ramazani Shadary as chosen successor.

Reporters without Borders lists DRC at 154th out of 180 on its press freedom index for 2018.

-AFP

Six humanitarian groups working in the north of the troubled Central African Republic on Wednesday halted operations to protest violent attacks against their personnel.

Baptise Hanquart of the charities' umbrella organisation CCO said 32 incidents had been recorded, including 21 since June, in the market town of Kaga Bandoro alone.

Seven staff have been killed across the impoverished former French colony - one of the most dangerous for aid workers in the world - since the start of the year, according to the International NGO Safety Organisation (INSO).

Aid organisations present a "financial opportunity for armed groups", Hanquart said, while vowing they would not "abandon their commitment to the people" of the Central African Republic. 

Hanquart described Wednesday's work stoppage - also observed in other towns - as a "day of indignation in the face of all that the people and the NGOs suffer".

Large military force

The local UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has said that since the end of June thefts, break-ins and lootings have surged in many towns including Kaga Bandoro.

One of the world's poorest countries, the CAR plunged into a religious-tinged conflict in 2013 when a mainly Muslim rebel alliance, the Seleka, overthrew the majority-Christian country's president, Francois Bozize.

France intervened to help remove the Seleka, and the following year the United Nations deployed a large military force on a peacekeeping and stabilisation mission.

However, the country remains violent and unstable. Most of its territory is in the hands of militia groups, many of them claiming to protect Muslims or Christians and fighting over resources.

-AFP

Former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba is to be sentenced on Monday by international judges for bribing witnesses during an earlier war crimes trial, which led to him being excluded from running for the Democratic Republic of Congo president.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague acquitted the businessman-turned-rebel leader on appeal for war crimes and crimes against humanity three months ago - but a second minor case has continued to haunt him and his political ambitions.

In June, a sharply divided five-judge ICC bench overturned Bemba's 2016 conviction and 18-year jail term for murders, rapes and pillaging committed by his private army in the neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002-2003 and acquitted him.

However, Bemba and five co-accused were found guilty on appeal in March of bribery, corruption and of coaching 14 defence witnesses in the main trial.

Bemba, 55, was handed a year-long prison term and a $350 000 fine.

ICC appeals judges, however, then ruled that the sentences of up to two-and-half years were too low and sent the case back for re-sentencing.

Prosecutors called for a maximum five years to be imposed on Bemba, his lawyer Aime Kilolo and his legal case manager Jean-Jacques Mangenda.

The ICC is to hand down its new rulings at 1300 GMT on Monday.

'Miniature-Mobutu'

In response to the corruption conviction, the Congolese Constitutional Court ruled that Bemba was ineligible to run in presidential polls on December 23.

He has already spent a decade behind bars during his trial and is thus unlikely to serve any more time.

After his June 8 acquittal in the main war crimes case, Bemba was provisionally freed by the ICC pending his sentencing in the corruption case.

It was unclear whether he would be present in court during Monday's proceedings.

The bribery case has impeded the political ambitions of a man sometimes referred to as a "miniature-Mobutu", in reference to the former Zaire's long-time ruler who was ousted in 1997.

Bemba had declared his candidacy after making a triumphant return home last month, with tens of thousands of supporters turning out to greet him.

After being barred from the ballot by the election commission, the thick-set and imposing Bemba appealed the decision.

The Congolese Constitutional Court, however, in its ruling confirmed "the ineligibility of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo for suborning witnesses by resorting to bribery".

Bemba in return denounced the elections as a "parody".

In an interview published in the magazine Jeune Afrique on Monday, Bemba said that if the elections were democratic and the opposition united behind one candidate, he would support that person and "make them win".

The former Belgian colony has not seen a peaceful transition of power since 1960.

But President Joseph Kabila, who has held office since 2001, has said he will not run again.

Some experts fear the current crisis may spiral into bloodshed.

Kabila, who took over in 2001 after his father Laurent-Desire Kabila was assassinated by a bodyguard, is an arch-foe of Bemba.

Kabila's tenure over the vast mineral-rich country has been marked by a reputation for corruption, inequality and unrest.

Bemba lost presidential elections to Kabila in 2006 and was later accused of treason when his bodyguards clashed with the army in Kinshasa.

In 2007, he fled to Belgium, where he had spent part of his youth, before he was arrested on an ICC warrant and transferred to the court.

-AFP

A top Democratic Republic of Congo opposition figure who is barred from December's presidential election is warning that "chaos" will follow if the vote is not transparent and fair.

Former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba spoke to The Associated Press on Tuesday, days before his sentencing at the International Criminal Court after being convicted of interfering with witnesses.

DRC's electoral commission rejected him as a candidate in the December 23 election, calling the witness interference synonymous with corruption. Congolese law prevents people convicted of corruption from running for the presidency.

Bemba accused both the commission and the Constitutional Court, which last week upheld the commission's decision, of being under "full control" of the government of President Joseph Kabila, who after two years of deadly unrest amid the long-delayed election has said he will step aside. 

"They just screwed me, they used the court to screw me, they made a big confusion," said Bemba, whose father was close to former longtime leader Mobutu Sese Seko and who finished second to Kabila in the 2006 election.

Bemba also said he expects DRC's opposition to rally behind a joint candidate to challenge Kabila's preferred one but did not say who it should be: "I don't know, frankly." He has said it would have been him.

Bemba did not directly answer the question of whether he is out of the race for good.

He warned that the December election "will not be fair and credible if we don't do something to re-establish the credibility of the process," and he said that "today is another kind of struggle, that we need to restore democracy."

Whoever wins the December 23 vote takes over a vast country with trillions of dollars' worth of mineral wealth but with dozens of armed groups battling for a part of it.

Bemba became a surprise presidential contender after ICC appeals judges in June acquitted him of war crimes committed by his Movement for the Liberation of Congo forces in neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003. He then returned to DRC, where he remains a senator, after more than a decade away.

"Bitter, not at all," he said of his decade away. "Of course the last 10 years was an opportunity to think about my country." DRC's situation is worse than when he left, he said.

Opposition parties have accused Kabila's government of blocking some top candidates from running for president. Congolese authorities blocked another top contender, Moise Katumbi, from entering the country to register as a candidate. Felix Tshisekedi, the candidate for the largest opposition party, remains eligible.

Kabila, whose mandate ended in late 2016 and by law cannot run again, has chosen a candidate with a recently formed coalition, former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. The opposition worries Kabila will continue to assert his influence even as one of Africa's most turbulent nations faces what could be its first peaceful, democratic transfer of power.

The United States was among those praising Kabila for his decision to step aside but it warned that DRC's electoral commission must "take all steps necessary" to guarantee a free and fair vote.

DRC's government has blamed the election delay on the difficulties of organising a vote. The opposition and some in the international community, including the United States, are objecting to the planned use of electronic voting machines despite warnings from watchdog groups that transparency and credibility could suffer.

In response, DRC's government has declared it will fund the election itself.

"The election now, they want one candidate to win," Bemba said Tuesday. "But that is not a democracy."

-AP

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