Former LRA Fighter Says Ongwen-Led Rebels Dressed as Government Soldiers to Attack Town

A former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) fighter has recounted how rebels commanded by war crimes indictee Dominic Ongwen dressed up as government soldiers before attacking a town in northern Uganda.

Testifying at Ongwen’s trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Wednesday, the former fighter, who is giving evidence under the pseudonym Witness P-309, said Ongwen ordered 30 to 40 LRA troops to attack the town.

“What did Dominic tell you about his plan?” asked prosecution lawyer Kamran Choudhry.

“He told us that we were going to fight. ‘It is market day, people are selling their produce and there’s a lot of produce.’ We were directed to go during day time,” explained the witness. “We were dressed as government soldiers, so it would be difficult for civilians to identify us as rebels.”

Asked who ordered the attack, Witness P-309 responded that Ongwen, their overall commander, ordered the attack and personally participated in it.

The witness, who said he was abducted while in the seventh year of primary school, testified that he became an escort to Ongwen soon after his abduction and that he subsequently participated in a number of attacks carried out by the rebels on camps for internally displaced persons and on government army detachments.

Ongwen is currently on trial for his alleged role in attacks on the Lukodi, Odek, Pajule, and Abok camps for internally displaced persons during the armed conflict between the LRA and Ugandan government. He has also been charged with forcibly marrying seven women, who were girls at the time. In total he is facing 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Witness P-309 narrated how the LRA hoodwinked government soldiers into thinking they were in the army: “As we were approaching the market, we found two civilians along the way. Dominic asked them ‘how is the market?’ They responded that the market was fine [and] there was a lot happening. He asked ‘are there fellow government soldiers in the market?’ and the guys said yes.”

Ongwen asked where the government troops were and the civilians pointed to the soldiers who were seated under a tree. “We went directly to the tree. When we approached the soldiers, they did not recognize us as rebels. The rebels at the front shot four soldiers [then] soldiers who were seated a bit farther started shooting,” narrated the witness.

Witness P-309 stated that they defeated the government soldiers, forcing them to abandon the town center to Ongwen’s troops. “In the center we took anything we were able to take; we took civilians’ property,” he said.

However, although some government soldiers and civilians were injured, he did not know whether there were any deaths. He could not recall whether LRA rebels abducted any civilians during the attack.

The witness also testified about an attack at Patongo in which rebels under Ongwen’s command overran a Uganda army barracks, broke into the armory, and seized weapons and army uniforms. He also recounted an attack he participated in at Baraga, where he said LRA fighters burned civilians’ residences after they had defeated government troops.  He said this attack was also led by Ongwen.

Some of Witness P-309’s testimony was given in a session closed to the public in order to protect his identity. In public broadcasts of his testimony, his face and voice were distorted to make it impossible for members of the public to know his identity lest he faces reprisals.

Under questioning by victim’s lawyers, Witness P-309 stated that he never attempted to escape from the LRA because he feared being killed or tortured if he were apprehended in the process of trying to escape.

He said he suffered a gunshot wound to the head during a fight against government soldiers. “There was no treatment. The only help I got was to clean my wounds with warm water,” said the witness.

The witness continues his testimony tomorrow with cross-examination by the defense.