Former LRA Fighter Testifies About Attacks on Abok and Odek IDP Camps

A former fighter with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) described to the International Criminal Court (ICC) his role in attacks on the Abok and Odek camps for people displaced by the conflict in northern Uganda.

Witness P-340 told the court this week how he was abducted by the LRA and remained with the group for two years before escaping from the rebel group in late 2004.

The witness was testifying in hearings before Trial Chamber IX that resumed on Monday after a three-week break. The previous hearing in the trial of former LRA commander Dominic Ongwen took place on August 22.

During his cross-examination of Witness P-340, Ongwen’s lead lawyer, Krispus Ayena Odongo, doubted whether the witness was a member of the LRA’s Siba battalion, as he had told the court. Odongo also doubted the witness’ account of the attacks on Abok and Odek, and whether he had been to Sudan with the LRA.

Ongwen is facing 13 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the attack on the Abok IDP camp. He also faces 13 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the attack on the Odek IDP camp. In total, Ongwen has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in attacks on a total of four IDP camps as well as sexual crimes.

On Monday, Witness P-340 told Trial Chamber IX the LRA abducted him from his home together with his brother on July 7, 2002. He said it was a Sunday and that he and his brother were abducted at night.

The witness said there were other people who were abducted that night and that they were grouped together. Witness P-340 said he later learned that the group that abducted him was called Siba. He told the court he found out later that Siba was part of a larger group called Sinia.

Witness P-340 did not identify Siba and Sinia other than as groups, but from other court testimony has identified Siba as one of three battalions of Sinia brigade. Ongwen was a battalion commander in Sinia and later became the Sinia brigade commander.

The witness said the Siba group trekked to Sudan a week or two after his abduction, where they stayed for several months. He said that he was trained in how to use a gun, and once saw Lapwony Madit, who he said was also known as Joseph Kony, the LRA leader. Lapwony is an Acholi word for teacher and is a term of respect that lower rank members of the LRA used for their superiors.

Witness P-340 also told the court that while in Sudan he saw the LRA being supplied with food by people he described as Arabs. He said they wore military uniforms but he did not know much about them because he never interacted with them.

“Do you remember the year when you came back to Uganda?” asked trial lawyer Paul Bradfield.

“Well, Sir, in the bush we were not very clear about timeframe, but when we came back to Uganda we were told that we returned back in 2003. I do not know the month or the date but I know it was in 2003,” replied Witness P-340.

A little later Bradfield asked the witness whether on return to Uganda he used a gun.

“My first time to fire a gun was during an attack when we had already returned to Uganda. That attack took place in a certain camp that we were told is called Odek camp. That was the place where I first shot my gun,” the witness said.

He gave some details of the attack on Odek in open court. He said he was part of a group that was assigned to attack the barracks at Odek while a separate group went to the IDP camp to loot food. He said that he saw huts on fire after the attack as the LRA fighters were retreating from Odek, but that he did not know who set them on fire.

Some of the testimony of Witness P-340 on the Odek attack was given in private session. This means the public could not hear what he said. This is one of the protective measures the court had allowed for Witness P-340. Additionally, the witness’s face was distorted in broadcasts of his testimony in order to conceal his identify from the public, and he was only referred to by pseudonym.

The court also gave Witness P-340 assurances against self-incrimination. Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt told the witness at the start of his testimony that so long as he told the truth, the ICC would not pursue him for any self-incriminating evidence he gave. A further protection was that his self-incriminating testimony would be heard in private session. Witness P-340 also had a court-appointed legal advisor, Mary Poku, to guide him on the issue of self-incriminating evidence.

On the attack on Abok, the witness gave a short account saying they had gone to loot food such as beans and flour. He said as they left he saw huts burning.

“We do not know who set the houses on fire. Our task was to carry food and leave. Carry food and leave,” Witness P-340 said.

Bradfield concluded questioning Witness P-340 on Monday afternoon. Lawyers representing victims in the trial of Ongwen did not question the witness, so Odongo began questioning him on Monday afternoon.

On Tuesday, Odongo questioned Witness P-340 about his membership in the Siba battalion; his account of the attacks on Abok and Odek; and whether he had been to Sudan.

Odongo asked the witness about the senior LRA officers he knew in Siba battalion. Witness P-340 said he knew Mukwaya and Kidega. Odongo asked him whether he knew someone called Abola and the witness confirmed he did.

“Mr. Witness, what would you say if I were to emphatically tell you that Abola, Kidega, Mukwaya were all in Terwanga (battalion)? And they were intelligence officers in Terwanga at this time? What would you say about that?” asked Odongo, referring to a battalion that was in a brigade different from the one to which the witness said he had belonged.

“Sir, the issue of intelligence I have no idea about it. All I know is the name of Siba and that is the group I was in. There are many names which could be the same. There could not be one Kidega in the whole of the holy,” replied the witness. The holy is one of the names LRA members used to refer to each other.

Odongo then asked the witness about his testimony on the attacks on Odek and Abok. He suggested to the witness that he was not present during the attacks and his accounts were based on what he was told by other former LRA fighters he met at a rehabilitation center when he left the group. Odongo also suggested to the witness that his account of the attacks was based on details he gathered during his interview with ICC prosecution investigators. The witness insisted he was present during those attacks and that the accounts he gave were based on what he had witnessed.

A little later, Odongo said, “Mr. Witness, I put it to you, on account of your narrative, that you did not participate in the Abok and Odek attacks. What do you say to that?”

“I said I went to Odek during the day. I also said I went to Abok at night. The ones that I have mentioned I was present,” Witness P-340 replied.

Odongo then questioned the witness about his testimony that soon after he was abducted by the LRA, his group, Siba, and other LRA groups went to Sudan.

“Mr. Witness, may I put the proposition that as a matter of fact between 2000 and 2004 most LRA actually stayed in Uganda, except Joseph Kony and a few people who were around him. From records available, most of LRA including Dominic Ongwen were in Uganda. They never went to Sudan,” said Odongo.

“That depends on your record. But for me, I moved to Sudan,” replied Witness P-340.

Then he added, “It was not my intention to go to Sudan. You probably think that I am claiming that I went to Sudan. I went under duress.”

Odongo concluded his cross-examination of Witness P-340 before the lunch break on Tuesday. A new witness, P-045, testified during the last session of the day. She told the court she was abducted by the LRA in 1990 and that, sometime later, she was designated as the wife of a commander who was not named in open court. Witness P-045 said she received training on how to use guns. Parts of her testimony were given in private session to protect her identify from the public.

Witness P-045 will continue testifying on Wednesday.