By Susan Kendi
Arrests, beatings and demotion were some of the consequences of failing to follow the instructions of Lord’s Resistance Army boss Joseph Kony, a witness told the International Criminal Court.
Dominic Ongwen, a former LRA commander on trial at the ICC, was beaten 200 times when he split from group, a former rebel radio operator said on January 25 under cross-examination.
The witness, who escaped from the LRA 12 years ago, was testifying in the case in which Ongwen is charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in four attacks in northern Uganda. His case is considered challenging because of complexities of determining whether he was a perpetrator or a victim. Ongwen was abducted by the LRA when he was 11 years old and turned into a soldier, and surrendered to United Special forces in the Central African Republic in 2015.
The witness, testifying under protective measures, explained the challenges faced by LRA soldiers in the bush. “Everyone in the LRA experienced a problem, including Kony -- who suffered from thirst and hunger. If I have to say everything that happened in the LRA, I will take three months, since everyone has different experiences to narrate.”
Escaping from the LRA was difficult, the witness said, because once captured, you would be anointed with a substance poured onto your head and a powder-like mixture was applied on the body, then tied up for some weeks till you completely forgot about your home. Most people in the LRA were injured and one could not walk for long distances.
Asked the relationship Ongwen had with civilians, the witness said: “When I was with Dominic, within the LRA I never saw him attack any civilians. I only realized that there were attacks being done, when intercepted audio recording were played to me (in court).”
Ongwen’s lawyer, Kryspus Odongo, asked about a man called Ocan Labongo and whether there were two commanders for the Sinai Brigade. “Ocan Nono Labongo is the name of the commander in the recording but I don’t quite know about his duties,” the witness replied. “You should have asked me these things when I came out of the bush. I cannot remember everything that happened.”
The witness said Kony was responsible for ordering attacks in the LRA. “You know, for example, in this courtroom we have a presiding judge and all orders come from the presiding judge. In the bush, it was Kony that gave orders, and if Kony was not there, then his deputy Vincent Otti would give the orders.”
The witness said he heard on Otti ordering the attack of Lukodi Camp through the radio but does not know who issued orders for attacks on Abok, Odek and Pajule camps since he was not always on radio.
The cross examination took a rough turn as Ongwen’s lawyer asked about the “LRA Children Brigade led by Onen Kamdulu, who were living and playing football with Teso civilians in 2003 to 2004”.
“I heard about that and that the relationship between the LRA and the civilians in the Teso sub-region but when I was sent there I never found any civilians there hence didn’t experience the relationship between the two groups.” Kamdulu is a former LRA commander.
Ongwen has been following the trial keenly through Acholi interpretation. The hearing continues.
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