A former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo has gone on trial for war crimes allegedly committed by his militia.
Jean-Pierre Bemba pleaded not guilty to three counts of war crimes and two counts of crimes against humanity as his trial opened at the International Criminal Court in The Hague Monday.
Bemba's trial is only the third to get underway at the court since it began work in 2002.
Prosecutors accuse Bemba of permitting his militia, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, to rape and murder civilians in the neighboring Central African Republic in late 2002 and early 2003.
ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo told reporters Monday that the case will define the legal responsibility of a commander to control his troops. He said the prosecutor's office is not arguing that Bemba personally committed the crimes or even ordered them -- but he said the troops who committed crimes were always under Bemba's authority and control.
Bemba's lawyers say he had no command of the troops once they crossed the border into the Central African Republic and is not responsible for their crimes.
Bemba sent his fighters to the C.A.R. at the request of the country's then-President Ange-Feliz Patasse. Patasse wanted them to fight a rebellion led by the country's former army chief of staff, Francois Bozize, who is now the C.A.R.'s president.