Belgium has said it is prepared to accept former Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba after he was cleared of war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC) last week, the AFP reports.
“The Belgian authorities have responded favourably to the court’s request to allow Mr. Bemba to stay in Belgium, where his family lives, following his release on bail,” Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Reynders said in a statement on Thursday, adding that the handover would be finalised in the coming days.
The former DRC politician left the ICC’s detention centre on Wednesday following his acquittal of war crimes after a decade behind bars, his lawyer said.
Bemba was acquitted on appeal last Friday in what was a surprise decision by the Hague-based court. The ICC said Bemba could not be held criminally liable for crimes committed by his troops in the Central African Republic in 2002-2003.
The 55-year-old had been sentenced unanimously to 18 years in 2016 by ICC trial judges after a decade behind bars following his arrest in Belgium.
Bemba’s request to have a short-stay visa in Belgium is still being considered by foreign office. He had requested for the visa which would allow him to remain for 90 days in Belgium at first, a spokesperson for Belgium’s migration minister Theo Francken confirmed.
Sources indicate that his wife and children already live in the Brussels suburb of Rhode-Saint-Genese, from where he was seized back in 2008 at the international court’s request.
Bemba had initially been found guilty on five counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by his private army during a five-month rampage in the neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR).
The former DRC vice president had sent his militia, the MLC – a rebel force that he later transformed into a political organisation – into the DRC’s northern neighbour in October 2002 to quash a coup against then president Ange-Felix Patasse.
Bemba unsuccessfully opposed President Joseph Kabila in the 2006 elections. He was forced out of the DRC when his militia clashed violently with government forces in 2007. He still retains a groundswell of support.