A Congolese warlord and one-time vice-president has been accused of ordering the rape of hundreds of women on the opening day of the most important case to come before the world's first permanent war crimes court.
Jean-Pierre Bemba, 46, faced a pre-trial hearing yesterday at the International Criminal Court in The Hague to decide whether there is enough evidence to proceed.
He is accused of leading his militia, the Congolese Liberation Movement, on a campaign of rape, murder and torture in neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002. Mr Bemba's forces went on the rampage after answering an appeal from then president of CAR Ange-Félix Patassé, who was threatened by a coup.
The warlord's troops were instructed to "traumatise and terrorise" the population, the ICC prosecutors said yesterday. "Bemba's men went from house to house, pillaging and raping mothers, wives and daughters," said Petra Kneuer, for the prosecution.
Lawyers for the accused said his troops were under the command of the Patassé regime and that he could not be held accountable for their actions. Mr Bemba was arrested last year in Belgium, after fleeing to Europe claiming he feared for his life.
The case is seen as a vital test for the war crimes court, set up in 2002.
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