During a trial hearing at the International Criminal Court (ICC), it emerged that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s half-brother may have tried to help Dominic Ongwen leave the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
The issue of General Salim Saleh trying to help Ongwen, who is on trial at the ICC, leave the LRA came up when Ongwen’s lawyer, Chief Charles Taku, was cross-examining Witness P-403 on Thursday.
Taku questioned Witness P-403 on January 19 about what happened to a mobile phone Ongwen had and asked whether the witness knew where the mobile phone came from.
“Did you find out any information that General Salim Saleh had provided this mobile phone to Mr. Ongwen to help him escape before it was discovered?” Taku asked Witness P-403.
“I have not come across that,” replied the witness.
Taku then said he was not going to ask the witness further questions on the issue because the witness was not the right person to answer them.
Saleh, who is Museveni’s half-brother, has served in the Ugandan military. He is currently an advisor to Museveni.
Ongwen has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in attacks between July 2002 and December 2005 on four camps for people displaced by the conflict in northern Uganda. The charges against him include forcibly marrying seven women and sexual crimes against those women.
The issue of a mobile phone Ongwen possessed came up when Taku was questioning Witness P-403 on the intercepts of LRA communication that the Ugandan police, military, and intelligence had. Taku asked the witness about whether those intercepts included listening on mobile phones, satellite phones, and walkie-talkies the LRA possessed. The witness said the intercepts did not cover those types of phones and devices.
Taku then asked about what the LRA policy was on mobile phones.
“There was a standing order that nobody should use a mobile phone,” said Witness P-403.
Taku then asked the witness whether he had seen any information about Ongwen having a mobile phone. The witness said he had no such information and the only time the issue of the mobile phone came up was when Ongwen communicated to LRA leader Joseph Kony to ask what to do with it. Witness P-403 said Kony initially advised Ongwen to bury it then later changed his mind and advised Ongwen to give Vincent Otti the phone. Otti was the deputy leader of the LRA at the time.
Witness P-403 began testifying on Wednesday about how Ugandan security agencies intercepted LRA radio communications and the measures the rebel group took to keep their information secret. The witness works in the Office of the Prosecutor as an analyst, according to a submission the prosecution filed on October 26, 2016.
Earlier on Thursday, Taku observed that the notes the Ugandan police, military, and intelligence took of their intercepts of the LRA radio communications were in English, yet the LRA spoke in Acholi whenever they communicated on radio. Taku noted Kony sometimes spoke in Kiswahili.
Taku then asked whether Witness P-403 had ever seen transcripts of the radio communications intercepts in Acholi and whether those had been certified by a linguist. The witness said he did not see any information about a linguist involved in the intercept operations, but he observed that the personnel monitoring the LRA communications spoke Luo and had a good understanding of Acholi.
Ongwen’s lawyer also asked whether the Ugandan government had voice analysis done to identify which LRA leader was speaking in the intercepted radio communications. Witness P-403 said there was no voice analysis done, but the staff listening into the radio conversations identified the different leaders by the call signs they used and because over time they were able to recognize the different LRA leaders’ voices.
When Taku concluded his cross-examination of Witness P-403, the court adjourned until Monday when the next witness is scheduled to testify.