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Interview with MLC leader Jean-Pierre Bemba

Investigators of the rebel Mouvement de liberation du Congo have delivered to their leader, Jean-Pierre Bemba, the report resulting from their inquiry into acts of cannibalism and other violations of human rights reported to have been perpetrated by MLC fighters in Mambasa, in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo [DRC]. The inquiry failed to verify any acts of cannibalism, but has confirmed that MLC fighters did indeed perpetrate a number of other violations.

Bemba spoke to IRIN about the findings of his investigators. The following are excerpts of that interview on Tuesday.

QUESTION: Sir, your organisation, the Mouvement de liberation du Congo, has just completed investigations into human rights violations allegedly perpetrated in the eastern town of Mambasa by your fighters and those of your ally, the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie-National [RCD-N]. What were your findings?

ANSWER: Our findings were that 27 of our soldiers are suspected of having participated in crimes and violations of human rights. These consisted of extortion, rape, assassination, looting and disobeying orders. These people will be court-martialled in the presence of international observers. The trial will be fair and public. The accused will be allowed lawyers of their choice, and if they do not have any, we will provide them.

Q: Did your investigations establish that MLC or RCD fighters practised cannibalism, as the bishop of Beni-Butembo, Monsignor Melchisedec Sikuli [Paluku], and some human rights NGOs have claimed?

A: The pygmies and Italian missionaries were among the people the investigators interviewed. Not a single pygmy admitted to having experienced or helped in acts of cannibalism. None of them, like Father Francko, the spokesman for the Italian community, made any reference to acts of cannibalism.

Q: Is it not because they fear reprisals that the priest and pygmies did not speak about this? Was it not these same people who have claimed that there had been acts of cannibalism?

A: These people were interviewed in Mambasa in the presence of [the UN mission in the DRC, known as] MONUC observers. There are videos that we have sent to our representatives in Kinshasa. If you want to see them [the videos] you can ask them [the representatives], you will see that they [the interviewees] spoke freely. The accusations were the work of the Mayi-Mayi chief in the name of Monsignor Melchisedec Sikuli.

Q: There is a pygmy delegation from Mambasa right now in Kinshasa. Members of this delegation, who are calling for an international criminal tribunal, assert that they have witnessed cannibalism. What do you say to this?

A: This is manipulation by the government, which wants to delay the application of the Pretoria accord. I think, of course, that all lies are punishable by the law. False testimony is punishable even under international law. If these people continue in [advancing] the testimony, all they need to do is to show us the bones of the pygmies whom our fighters have eaten. And in such an event, we will ask for DNA analysis to determine if they are really the people they are talking about. This can go very far.

Q: Will you submit the results of your investigation to the UN Security Council as an answer to MONUC's preliminary report - which contradicts yours - into the accusations?

A: We will if the council asks. It has asked us to punish the guilty. This is what we are about to do.

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