ICC postpones start of Bemba war crimes trial

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The war crimes trial of former Democratic Republic of Congo vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba, rescheduled for July 14, has been put off again, court officials said Wednesday.

In a statement, the International Criminal Court said that it preferred to wait for the outcome of a challenge mounted by Bemba's legal team over the admissibility of the case.

"It is in the interests of justice for the challenge to admissibility of the case raised by the defence to be resolved by the Appeals Chamber prior to the commencement of the trial," it said.

Bemba's trial was initially supposed to start on Monday, but on June 25 the date was shifted to July 14 due to what the court called a "likely change in the composition of the bench" and other "necessary preparations".

In its statement on Wednesday, the court said it would hear submissions on August 20 on re-fixing a trial date.

Bemba, 47, stands accused of three charges of war crimes and two of crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the Central African Republic from October 2002 to March 2003.

He will stand trial for acts of murder, rape and pillaging allegedly committed by members of his Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) while helping troops of then CAR president Ange-Felix Patasse resist a coup attempt.

Bemba has been challenging the admissibility of the case against him, asserting that he has already been investigated in the CAR and could not be prosecuted for the same crime twice.

Bemba, who left the DR Congo in April 2007, a year after losing a presidential election amid a political transition that followed a 1998-2003 civil war, was arrested on an ICC warrant in Brussels in May 2008.

© 2010 AFP

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