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Bemba Can Return Home, If He Wants, Says DRC

Former Democratic Republic of Congo vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba “can return” home if he wants to, following his acquittal on appeal of war crimes, Kinshasa said Sunday.

Foreign minister Leonard She Okitundu did not, however, specify whether the one-time rebel leader will face prosecution by DR Congo authorities.

“Jean-Pierre Bemba left of his own will. If he wants to return, he can return,” Okitundu told the French language Internationales television programme.

“I am not able to answer you. I have not been informed that Jean-Pierre Bemba has a judicial record here,” Mr Okitundu added, referring to a possible arrest warrant.

Bemba, who had already spent a decade behind bars, was “released provisionally under specific conditions,” the Hague-based International Criminal Court said on Friday.

In a surprise decision, judges last week overturned the 2016 verdict against Bemba and quashed his 18-year prison sentence, saying he could not be held criminally liable for crimes committed by his troops in the Central African Republic in 2002-2003.

Bemba’s wife and children are believed to be living in a villa in the suburb of Rhode-Saint-Genese, 15km south of Brussels, where he was originally arrested in May 2008 at the ICC’s request.

Judges had initially found Bemba guilty on five counts of warcrimes and crimes against humanity committed by his private army during a five-month rampage in the neighbouring CAR where they committed murder, rape and looting.

The 18-year sentence was the longest ever to be handed down by the court and was the first trial to determine whether a military commander bore responsibility for the conduct of troops under his control.

Bemba’s interim release relates to a separate case in which he was handed a one-year jail sentence and fined $350,000 in 2017 for bribing witnesses during his main war crimes trial.

He lost an appeal against that sentence and the ICC is yet to decide on any new jail term, with the possibility of a maximum of five years.

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