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Bemba Lawyers Challenge War Crimes Charges at ICC


Lawyers for former Congolese rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba are challenging the case against him at the International Criminal Court.

ICC prosecutors are charging Bemba with two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes for leading troops into the Central African Republic to put down a coup attempt against then-president Ange-Felix Patasse.

At the time, Bemba was leading a rebellion in northern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo against the government in Kinshasa. His Movement for the Liberation of Congo was supported by both Uganda and the Central African Republic.

Bemba eventually won a vice presidency as part of a 2003 peace deal. Elections that followed put him in a head-to-head run-off against President Joseph Kabila. Bemba lost that vote and was charged with treason after his militia fought government troops in the capital.

He was arrested in Belgium in 2008 and is now being held at the International Criminal Court's detention center in The Hague.

Defense lawyer Nkwebe Liriss says the case against him is legally inadmissible.

Liriss says he is not asking judges to be certain that this case is inadmissible. He is asking them to verify, based on the level of probability, whether this case is admissible to the court. And he says it is not.

Liriss argues that Bemba has been denied due process, in part, because he is facing trial in the Netherlands rather than in Africa.

Liriss says there is no longer even the faintest proof against Bemba. But he says there is one irrefutable proof, what he calls the interference of politics in this case by sending his client to the International Criminal Court.

The Central African Republic's lawyer in this case, Emile Bizon, says Bemba's legal team is using delaying tactics to obstruct justice.

Bizon says defense lawyers talking about obstructions to this procedure are themselves using delaying tactics to obstruct the law. He says it is a highly lamentable and abusive frivolity.

Bemba's trial was initially scheduled to begin this week but was delayed by judges so they could hear the defense challenge of admissibility. Pending a ruling on that challenge, his trial is now set to begin July 5.

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