Jean-Pierre Bemba: Congo warlord's conviction overturned

Hague court judges overturn ex-Congo VP Bemba's war crime convictions

The global court on Friday overturned Bemba's war crimes conviction and 18-year prison sentence for alleged atrocities carried out by troops under his control in neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002-2003, meaning he could be released in a matter of days.

Bemba was convicted on March 21, 2016 of murder, rape and pillaging between October 2002 and March 2003, when militia troops of the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC), who were under his command were sent to neighboring Central African Republic to quell a coup attempt.

The Court of Appeals of the ICC acknowledged that the trial in first instance against the ex-leader made serious mistakes, so that the accused is completely free of criminal responsibility, according to the jurist.

Bemba was one of only four people convicted by the permanent war crimes court in its 16 years of operation, and the highest ranking among them. If Bemba, who has been behind bars for 10 years, actually takes on Kabila in an (electoral) fight, it's likely this battle will claim further victims.

But in a scathing assessment, the Hague-based ICC's appeal judges said Bemba was "erroneously" convicted for specific criminal acts.

It was celebration galore on the streets of DRC's capital Kinshasa as residents welcomed the International Criminal Court's decision on former VP Jean Pierre Bemba.

Friday's decision was greeted by cheers from his supporters in the gallery.

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The ICC's judges unanimously found DR Congo's former vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba guilty in 2016 on five charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Bemba sent his militia, the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC), into neighbouring auto in October 2002 to quash a coup against the then president, Ange-Felix Patasse.

"5229 survivors of Bemba's atrocities participated in the ICC proceedings - for these fearless individuals, as well as thousands of other victims in vehicle, the pursuit of truth, justice and reparations will continue".

Judges are to decide "shortly whether Mr Bemba's continued detention is warranted", Van den Wyngaert said.

It remains to be seen what Bemba will do once he is released. "Delivering this judgment, it seems to say to the warlords: 'As long as you are not on the scene, let your troops commit the worst crimes and the worst abominations, say that you have nothing to do with that and we will not condemn you"'.

In 2006, he lost a presidential run-off against young Joseph Kabila, son of the late leader.

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