Tribunal gives Bemba conditional release before trial
The International Criminal Court in The Hague on Friday ordered the release of Democratic Republic of Congo ex-vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba ahead of his war crimes trial, but deferred a decision on where he shoud go.
"Today, August 14, 2009, Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court decided to grant the request of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo for interim release, albeit under conditions," said a court statement.
"The continued detention of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo did not appear necessary ... to ensure the appearance of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo at trial."
Bemba is awaiting trial on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the Central African Republic, a neighbouring country of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The court added there was no reason to believe Bemba would obstruct the investigation or commit crime.
Bemba's release was put on hold pending a determination of which state would take him in, and a ruling on the conditions.
The court invited Belgium, Portugal, France, Germany, Italy and South Africa – states to which Bemba had asked to be released – to provide "observations" on the issue and "any possible set of conditions restricting liberty to be imposed."
Hearings for this purpose were scheduled for September 7-14.
Bemba, 46, asked the court in June to free him pending his trial on three charges of war crimes and two counts of crimes against humanity for atrocities allegedly committed in the Central African Republic from October 2002 to March 2003.
The court decided earlier that month that he would stand trial in his capacity as military commander for acts of murder, rape and pillaging allegedly committed by members of his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), and not as a co-perpetrator.
The prosecution has appealed that decision, and no trial date has been set.
Following that ruling, his lawyers told the court Bemba's detention was no longer required since the charge sheet had been "significantly reduced."
"We are no longer faced by a criminal (suspected of having) personally committed atrocities," Aime Kilolo told the court.
Bemba was arrested on an ICC warrant in Brussels in May 2008.
Prosecutors claimed his MLC troops aided the armed forces of then Central Africa Republic president Ange-Felix Patasse in battling a rebel movement led by former army chief of staff Francois Bozize.
After a years-long civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bemba became one of four vice-presidents in a transitional government ahead of landmark 2006 elections in which he unsuccessfully challenged Joseph Kabila for the presidency.
He then 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.