November 22 trial date set for DR Congo ex-vice president

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Democratic Republic of Congo former vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba will go on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity on November 22, the International Criminal Court said Thursday.

"Trial Chamber III ... set the date for the commencement of the trial", the ICC said in a statement, two-and-a-half years after Bemba's arrest in Brussels and two days after judges dismissed his last-ditch bid to stop the trial.

The 47-year-old stands accused on three charges of war crimes and two of crimes against humanity allegedly committed in neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) from October 2002 to March 2003.

The charges include acts of murder, rape and pillaging by members of his Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) while helping troops of then CAR president Ange-Felix Patasse resist a coup attempt.

On Tuesday, ICC appeals judges dismissed Bemba's bid to declare the case against him non-admissible.

Bemba had claimed abuse of process, saying he was being prosecuted for the same crimes twice in conflict with the legal principle of double jeopardy. He had been charged by a senior investigating judge in the CAR in 2003.

But the ICC appeals chamber dismissed all of his arguments and said there had been no breach.

Bemba was transferred to The Hague in July 2008.

The start of the trial, initially set for April 27, has been postponed three times -- the last time indefinitely in July.

A business tycoon, Bemba left the DR Congo in 2007 after losing presidential elections held during a political transition that followed the country's 1998-2003 civil war.

He had been one of four transitional vice presidents before briefly leading the opposition, but was forced into exile when government forces tried to disarm his private militia in clashes that killed 300 people in March 2007.

Bemba is the most high-profile suspect in the custody of the ICC.

© 2010 AFP

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