July 4, 2008 / 3:28 PM / 10 years ago

Congo's Bemba brought before global war crimes court

THE HAGUE, July 4 (Reuters) - Former Congolese rebel warlord and vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba appeared before the global war crimes court on Friday charged with leading a campaign of rape and torture.

He is the highest-profile suspect to date brought before the world’s first permanent war crimes court, set up in 2002. It was his first appearance before the court.

The court will hold a hearing on Nov. 4 to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to start a trial of Bemba, who was transferred to the International Criminal Court’s custody on Thursday. He was arrested in Belgium in May.

His is accused of leading Congolese rebels in a campaign of rape and torture in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003.

He confirmed to the court that he had been informed of the charges against him but was not asked to enter a plea.

The arrival in The Hague of Bemba, who was defeated by Joseph Kabila in Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) 2006 presidential election, was seen as a boost to the court after judges ordered the release of its first suspect on Wednesday.

Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga remains in custody pending a prosecution appeal, but judges have put his trial on hold as his defence cannot view some evidence that the United Nations wants to keep confidential to protect its sources. (Writing by Niclas Mika; Editing by Stephen Weeks)

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