A witness told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that the Uganda Police Force ran its own operation to eavesdrop on radio communication between various commanders of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) that was independent of similar operations by other security agencies.
Patrick Lumumba Nyero told the court that he began intercepting LRA radio communication for the police in 2003 and continued to do so for three years until he was unable to hear LRA commanders communicate. He said during the three years he eavesdropped on LRA commanders he was able to hear them as far away as Sudan while he was at his post in northern Uganda.
Nyero testified about the Uganda Police Force intercept operation between November 22 and November 23 during the trial of Dominic Ongwen, a former LRA commander. Ongwen has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in violations committed between July 2002 and December 2005. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
During his testimony Nyero described his routine while intercepting LRA radio communications, the routine LRA commanders and radio operators followed in their communications, and other details about the LRA he was able to learn during his intercepts.
Nyero said he is now a sergeant, but when he began intercepting LRA communications in July 2003 he was a constable. He said in July 2003, he was posted to Kamdini police station where he started his work as an interceptor. Nyero said he remained at the Kamdini police station until 2010 when he was posted to Bibia.
“Why did you start to intercept the LRA?” asked prosecutor Julian Elderfield.
“I started because I got other operators who were doing the same [in Kamdini],” replied Nyero.
“Was this an internal policy of the police at the time?” asked Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt.
“It was not actually a policy, Your Honor, but I got other operators doing it so I would also listen,” answered Nyero.
“Did it at one point become a policy of the police to listen to the LRA?” asked Judge Schmitt.
“I don’t know whether it will be a policy. That depends on the decision of the authority concerned,” replied Nyero.
“Did you receive formal authorization to continue to listen to the LRA after you started?” asked the judge.
“Your Honor, I would like to tell this court on 30th September 2003, I received a verbal instruction from the regional communication center, northern region, with its headquarters in Gulu that I was officially authorized to do the job,” Nyero answered.
“What was the purpose for you intercepting the LRA?” asked Elderfield.
“The purpose was to fight the LRA insurgency,” Nyero replied.
Nyero told the court he used a Codan radio to intercept LRA radio communications. He said he would write notes in shorthand on paper. He said he would then later write out in English what he called a “fair copy” on a separate paper. He said he wrote in English even though the LRA communicated in Acholi because his superiors did not speak Acholi.
Nyero said his fair copy would at times include information from the New Vision newspaper and the Mega FM radio station.
“Mr. Nyero, what time in the morning did you start to listen to the LRA?” asked Elderfield.
“At first the LRA rebels used to start their communication at 8 am. But later on they changed to 9 am,” answered Nyero.
He said LRA commanders then communicated at 11; one in the afternoon; three o’clock; six in the evening; and nine at night. He said this was their routine seven days a week. Nyero said they would also communicate at other times of the night, but this was not regular.
One line of questioning Elderfield pursued was whether Nyero coordinated with other security agencies that had their own operations to intercept LRA radio communications.
Two witnesses have already testified about the intercept operation of the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF). One, P-003, testified in February and the other, P-339, testified on November 21 and November 22, before Nyero. Another witness, P-059, testified in January about the intercept operation of the Internal Security Organisation.
“Did you ever work with the Uganda People’s Defense Force in your interception process?” asked Elderfield.
“Your Honor, I never worked with the Uganda People’s Defense Force,” replied Nyero.
“Did you ever work with the Internal Security Organization?” asked Elderfield.
“No,” answered Nyero.
“ESO [External Security Organization]?” asked Judge Schmitt.
“No, Your Honor,” replied Nyero.
He said during his interception work he was able to identify part of the LRA leadership, such as the leader Joseph Kony; his deputy Vincent Otti; Dominic Ongwen; Lakati; Sam Kolo; Oringa Sisto Abudema; Okunga Alero; and Opiro Anaka.
“How did you identify LRA commanders?” asked Elderfield.
“I was able to identify them or penetrate them simply because the LRA were somewhat lose in their communications, and the LRA leader would at times call the commanders using their own name,” answered Nyero.
Later when Thomas Obhof, one of Ongwen’s lawyers, cross-examined him on the same subject Nyero elaborated that Kony made it easy for him to identify some of the commanders because he used Acholi words for certain English names. He said that Kony often spoke to Vincent Otti using the Acholi name Binany, which Nyero said meant Vincent. He also said Kony spoke to Dominic Ongwen using the Acholi name Odomi, which Nyero said meant Dominic.
Nyero told the court over time he was able to match the names to the call signs the different commanders used, and he drew up a list of call signs and the corresponding commanders that he referred to. He said at one point he gave the list to his superior who later confirmed to him that it matched similar lists that the Uganda People’s Defense Force and Internal Security Organization had.
He said he never broke the code LRA commanders sometimes used to communicate. He said all his notes of LRA radio communications were based on conversations the commanders had in plain Acholi.
“Mr. Witness, how audible were the LRA communications that you listened to?” asked Obhof.
“Communication was audible enough,” replied Nyero.
When Obhof pressed him further on the issue, Nyero said at times wind, rain or clouds would interfere and affect the audibility of the communications he was listening to.
Nyero concluded his testimony on November 23. The next witness, Ate Kloosterman, testified on November 27.