Witness Says Survivors of LRA Attack on Abok Still Have Nightmares

A leader of the Abok camp for internally displaced people (IDP) told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that some survivors of a Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) attack on the camp 13 years ago still have nightmares about that attack.

Cyprian Ayoo told the court Abok was attacked around eight at night on June 8, 2004, and the attack continued for up to three hours during which time he heard three exchanges of gunfire and saw the homes of camp residents being set on fire. Ayoo said some of the residents who were abducted returned the following day after Ugandan government soldiers pursued the LRA.

“Were they [survivors of the Abok attack] fearful of another attack happening?” asked Megan Hirst, a lawyer representing one of the group of victims in the ICC trial of former LRA commander Dominic Ongwen.

“That [June 8, 2004] was not the first attack. People were really scared. People were still scared of any other attacks. That other attack would still occur. If I tell you even up to now, there are still people who still have nightmares from that attack. They will dream and shout that there is fighting, and yet there is no fighting,” Ayoo replied.

Ayoo testified on November 28 and November 29 in the trial of Ongwen, who has been charged with 13 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the Abok attack. He has also been charged for his alleged role in attacks on three other IDP camps, namely, Lukodi, Pajule, and Odek. In total Ongwen is faced with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.

During Ayoo’s testimony on November 28, prosecutor Adesola Adeboyejo asked him how he became the leader of Abok IDP camp, what his role was, the routine of the soldiers guarding the camp, and details of the attack on June 8, 2004.

Ayoo told the court he was elected leader by camp residents, and he worked with a committee. He said the secretary to the committee was Douglas Obwor, who testified on November 15. Ayoo said the committee had nine other secretaries who had specific duties, such as environment, mobilization, and security. He said the camp was also divided into blocks, and each block had a leader.

On the day of the attack, Ayoo said he was walking around the camp when he saw some men crossing the road going to Ngai. He said he did not recognize these men, and he reported this to the commander of the military unit guarding the camp. Ayoo said he was told to tell camp residents to stay indoors and remain quiet. He said he then spoke to about five block leaders and gave them the instructions from the commander.

Ayoo said it was at about eight o’clock at night that he heard the first gunshot. He said the first exchange of gunfire lasted about 10 minutes. He said he went to hide, eventually hiding in a banana plantation from where he said he saw what happened as the LRA fighters continued their attack. He said among the LRA fighters were young people he described as children.

“Some of them were holding sticks in their hands. For these children that I saw their main role was to break into a house, pick things, and then set that house on fire,” said Ayoo.

He described what the LRA did during the attack as “working.” Adeboyejo asked him to explain what he meant.

“They were taking things, items, and killing. What they were doing was basically looting and killing. And also burning houses,” explained Ayoo.

He said while he was hiding in the banana plantation some of the LRA fighters passed near him, and he overheard them talking about a commander called Okello Kalalang and Ongwen.

“They were actually appreciating somebody called Afande Okello Kalalang, that he did very good to change the order or how they were instructed. Dominic had instructed, ‘Shot anyone that you find.’ So, it was good Okello Kalalang changed this order,” Ayoo said he overheard the fighters saying.

Afande is a Swahili word for officer, usually used by a junior person in a uniformed service when addressing or referring to a superior.

Ayoo said the LRA fighters he overheard said Kalalang had told them if they could they should push people into burning houses, “because they were able to spare their bullets for their own protection because they know the government soldiers … UPDF [Uganda People’s Defense Force] has transport and will bring reinforcement.”

“Secondly, if they shot everyone and they kill everyone in the camp, who was going to carry these items?” Ayoo said he overheard them saying referring to what they had looted from the camp.

“So, they said Kalalang knows how to spare bullets,” said Ayoo.

Charles Taku, one of Ongwen’s lawyers, followed up on November 29 on this issue of orders while he cross-examined Ayoo.

“Did you personally hear or see Dominic give orders to the soldiers, particularly those soldiers who were parading in your vicinity?” asked Taku.

“I cannot be tricked with that question. I only heard. I didn’t see him give an order or make an order. I did not see them being given directives or orders,” replied Ayoo.

“Did you see Kalalang at that location?” asked Taku.

“No. I did not see. Even if I saw him at night I wouldn’t know this who or this is who,” answered Ayoo.

On November 28, Taku asked Ayoo about an allegation that he was voted out as camp leader before the June 8, 2004 attack on Abok because he was suspected to have misappropriated supplies for camp residents.

“During the attack, in your statement, you said that the rebels recovered some medicines in your house. How did they find their way into your house?” asked Taku.

“The drugs were brought on the 7th [of June] and before the drugs are given out the committee were required to sit down and decide how they are to be distributed. The committee … was supposed to meet on the 8th,” replied Ayoo.

“Were you removed from the position of camp leader prior to the attack because you misappropriated material that were donated for the camp residents?” asked Taku.

“You are making me laugh because whenever they bring things and then you corrupt items that would not happen in the camp. Instead, I resigned so that I can go and work with an organization called CIPA. I was their chairperson in that area,” answered Ayoo.

Earlier during his testimony, Ayoo said on the night of the attack on Abok, he heard a military truck in the camp at around 11, and he said that is when the shooting stopped. He said he left his hiding place the following morning and that is when he spoke to other survivors of the attack. Ayoo said he wrote a list of the people who died in the attack, asking residents for details of those people he did not know. He said 28 people were killed in the attack.

Ayoo said the morning of June 9, 2004 a group of UPDF soldiers, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Okello Engola, pursued the LRA and some more residents who had been abducted returned.

He concluded his testimony on November 29. Next to testify was Witness P-006.

A transcript of Ayoo’s testimony on November 29 is available here.