THE HAGUE — Former DR Congo vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba will remain in custody while he awaits his war crimes trial, the appeal chamber of the International Criminal Court ruled on Wednesday.
The appeal was brought by the prosecution against the court’s decision in August to grant Bemba a conditional release.
Since then he has however remained in his holding cell in The Hague while a country was sought that was willing to host him.
“The appeal chamber has decided that the decision of the first court should be reversed,” judge Akua Kuenyehia said Wednesday.
The prosecution appealed on the grounds that Bemba, who could face a life sentence if convicted, was a flight risk and may harm witnesses in his trial, for which a starting date of April 27 has since been set.
“The potential length of the sentence if Bemba is convicted is a further incentive for him to abscond,” Kuenyehia added.
The 47-year-old stands accused of three charges of war crimes and two of crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the Central African Republic (CAR) from October 2002 to March 2003.
He will stand trial for acts of murder, rape and pillaging allegedly committed by members of his Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) while helping troops of then CAR president Ange-Felix Patasse resist a coup bid.
The secretary general of the MLC said he regretted the decision.
“It is with much sadness that we have learned of the news. We are approaching Christmas, we had strongly hoped that Jean-Pierre Bemba would spend the festivities of the end of the year with his family,” said Francois Muamba. “We are astounded but we remain in sympathy with him. He remains our leader,” he added.
Bemba’s trial will be the ICC’s third since it started operating in The Hague in July 2002.
A business tycoon who left DR Congo in 2007 after losing presidential elections held during a political transition in the wake of a 1998-2003 civil war, Bemba was arrested on an ICC warrant in Brussels in May 2008.
He had briefly led the opposition, but was forced into exile when government forces tried to disarm his private militia in clashes that killed 300 in March 2007.
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