By Susan Kendi
Soldiers in the Uganda People’s Defence Force would come to the camp to buy cigarettes and alcohol as well as eat from small restaurants, a witness told the International Criminal Court during hearings in the trial of Dominic Ongwen.
UPDF soldiers, who were mobile and patrolled the area, spoke in Kiswahili and Luganda when they visited shops in Odek. The witness told judges of Trial Chamber IX of the ICC that unlike the UPDF, the Local Defence Units, commonly referred to as home guards, lived in the barracks. LDUs spoke in Acholi because they were comprised of people from the area whereas the UPDF soldiers did not know the Acholi language.
Business people and civilians in Odek would travel to Achet, some four or five kilometers from Odek, to buy cigarettes and other goods. Achet had a bigger military barracks and camp than Odek and the “strong UPDF soldiers” were stationed there.
Ongwen is facing 10 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the attack on Pajule camp and additional charges for his alleged responsibility in Lukodi, Abok and Odek camps and committing sexual and gender based crimes, all adding up to 70 counts.
Here are excerpts of the conversation between Prosecutor Beti Hohler and Witness P-0275 from the hearing on Monday, November 6, 2017:
Witness: The children (abducted) were beating jerricans to scare government soldiers … When we were told to lie down, we were to hold together at the waist they told us to move while bound together. I was not lying down when I saw the children.
Prosecutor: How did you know that the beating of the jerricans was meant to scare government soldiers?
Witness: I learnt later that they were scaring the soldiers when I was already in the bush. They said that.
Prosecutor: What were the soldiers doing that these children were beating the jerricans to scare them away?
Witness: You have to realise that I did not know what they were doing. Kindly ask me what I can respond to in my capacity.
Prosecutor: You said you saw the military camp on fire. Did you at that point know where the soldiers were?
Witness: I saw the barracks was on fire since I know where the barracks are. Knowing where the soldiers were, I don’t know. I did not know whether to differentiate if they were UPDF or LRA soldiers.
(The prosecutor moves on to cassava growing in Odek)
Witness: Cassava was grown locally by the locals. The UPDF would give you a time limit like from eight to four o’clock (in the evening) for you to go and cultivate the crop. If you take long to return to the camp, you would go back and sleep in the plantation since they would not allow you to come in.
Prosecutor: How far was Awere from Odek?
Witness: It was about three and a half kilometers. It is closer than Achet.
Prosecutor: Was there a military camp at Awere?
Witness: Yes, there was a military camp in Awere.
Prosecutor: Witness, you mentioned a young lady, Ajwok who was a little older and who left school. Do you know why she left school?
Witness: I cannot know why Ajwok left school.
Prosecutor: Is this the same Ajwok that you mentioned was in the small group before you marched?
Witness: Yes, It was the same Ajwok.
Prosecutor: When she was taken as a wife, how many days were you in the bush?
Witness: When she was taken and turned into a wife, I believe we [had been] in the bush for six or more days. When you are in the bush, you lose track of time since your priority is to live … When you talk of Lapwony in the LRA, it is not a single person. If I had stayed in the bush for a while, I would have been a lapwony for the next group that came after me.
Prosecutor: Mr Witness, you could not determine the age of Ajwok but how were you able to assume that of a lapwony?
Witness: I did not state the exact age. I stated perhaps he is 34 years old since before my abduction I could estimate years by one’s beard.
Prosecutor: You spoke of a stream where you were drinking and your first attempt to escape, which failed since five soldiers came from Gere. Did they come from your group or moved in diferent direction?
Witness: In respect to the five soldiers that I referred to, when I attempted to escape and ran into these soldiers, they asked why I wanted to go home and I told them that I was released. When the gunship came, we all fled from the main road. There were two soldiers on the anthill … The five (fighters) were different; they had a different odour, hair and I never saw them. The five were in one group but were mainly rearguard — those that stay at the back when people are in front.
Prosecutor: You said that you did not see them again. How did you know that they are the rear guards?
Witness: The reason I confirmed they were part of the rear guards, when they asked me questions I was able to determine that they were in the rebel group … I was not blind, dumb or deaf. I could hear people talking about the guards. When I was in the bush I was not blind, dumb or deaf to these matters.
Prosecutor: Were they called guards or they had other names?
Witness: I heard them being referred to as guards.
Prosecutor: Let’s go to the bombardment you spoke of. You said that four days from your abduction a helicopter came. Before the fourth day, did you see the helicopter come to bomb the rebels?
Witness: When I tried to escape that is when the helicopter came and I separated from the five guards because of the gunship. I don’t know if it killed them.
After the escape, I was beaten with the ammunition of the RPG something like a hollow stick. The ammunition is long, looks like a stick rounded at the top. I was told to forget about education. ”Now you are in the bush; continue with your work.”
Prosecutor: When was Kony referred to as ‘Big man’?
Witness: I first learnt that Kony was a big man when I was still at home. Before we were sleeping in the bushes hiding, they told us that Kony was the first person to start the rebellion.
Prosecutor: Did the soldiers call him Joseph Kony, ‘Big man’ or by another name?
Witness: While in the bush, Kony would sometimes be referred to as Commander.
Prosecutor: Did you know that Joseph Kony knew that his home, Odek, was attacked in 2004?
Witness: Kony learnt of Odek after the attack was reported.
Prosecutor: Who told you this? Was it when or after you came from the bush?
Witness: I found out this when in the bush. People in the bush are funny — they speak about anything once someone is incumbent. They said, “This superior commander has seen people have come and attacked his home. He likes issuing instructions for people’s home to be attacked. He was not aware but it was attacked.”
The prosecution concluded on examining Witness P-0275.