A Former LRA Officer Disputes the LRA’s Goal was to Overthrow the Ugandan Government

A former long-serving member of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that after he escaped the group he concluded the LRA’s goal was not to overthrow the Ugandan government. He said he also appealed on FM radio to LRA members to leave the group.

Witness P-145 told the court on Wednesday about collecting and carrying away food looted during an LRA attack on the Lukodi camp for internally displaced people (IDP). He said he did not participate in the attack nor did he witness what happened during the attack.

Dominic Ongwen, a former LRA commander who is on trial at the ICC, has been charged with 13 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the May 2004 attack on Lukodi. He has also been charged for his alleged role in attacks on three other IDP camps, sex crimes, and conscripting child soldiers. In total, Ongwen faces 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.

On Wednesday, Witness P-145 told the court he was abducted in 1990 from a village in Kitgum district. He did not name the village in open court. He said at the time of the attack on Lukodi he was a lieutenant attached to the sick bay of the Gilva brigade. He said his role was to collect for the sick bay food looted in the Lukodi attack.

A line of questioning prosecutor Yulia Nuzban followed with Witness P-145 was to ask him what he did soon after he escaped from the LRA in 2005. The witness said he thinks he escaped either in April or May of that year.

Witness P-145 said days after he escaped from the LRA he took Ugandan army soldiers to the site of an arms cache he knew was hidden by one of his superiors in the LRA. He said he then asked to speak on Mega FM.

“When I came back [from the LRA] I found that my people were alive. We thought that all the people who had come out were killed,” said Witness P-145. He had explained that while in the LRA one of the things they were told was that if they escaped the group they would be killed by government soldiers.

“I asked them [the Ugandan military] to let me go on the radio and make an announcement and let the people know so if they want to come back, they can come back,” said the witness.

He said he spoke on a program called Dwog Paco hosted by Lacambel. Dwog Paco is an Acholi phrase, which is loosely translated as “come home.” Nuzban asked whether while in the LRA he used to listen to Mega FM.

“Yes, we would listen to radio Mega. There were times when we were prohibited from listening,” replied the witness. He said that prohibition did not extend to senior officers.

“But other times they would let the junior officers also listen to public radio,” the witness said.

Witness P-145 told the court he named a number of commanders he knew he had left behind in the LRA and appealed to them to leave the group.

Nuzban then played five excerpts of one of the witness’s appeals on Mega FM. After each excerpt Nuzban asked him some follow up questions. All the excerpts were played in public, except one.

In one excerpt, Witness P-145 told listeners that the LRA is not fighting to overthrow the Ugandan government. Nuzban asked him to explain his statement.

“As far as we were concerned we were trained, and we were told that we were fighting to overthrow the government. I found out that it wasn‎’t a war to overthrow the government. It was just a war to kill people,” replied the witness.

In another excerpt, Witness P-145 asked, “If you are fighting to overthrow the government, do you think that the civilians you are killing every day are the government?”

“Why was the LRA finishing off people at home?” asked Nuzban.

“Well it’s very difficult for me to explain and understand why they were killing people,” answered the witness.

When Nuzban finished questioning Witness P-145, Thomas Obhof, one of Ongwen’s lawyers, cross-examined him. Obhof asked him whether he had heard LRA leader Jospeh Kony talk about spirits.

“He would come and say he is possessed, but I would not know that this is a spirit or it is a normal human being. But he would say he is possessed,” the witness answered.

Obhof then asked him to describe when this would happen and how people assembled to see Kony being possessed. Witness P-145 said usually senior officers told people that the following day or some other day the spirit would like to speak to them. He said on the day people were told to assemble Kony would appear before them dressed in white.

“Everybody would spring just like us as we respect ourselves here in this house when the judges come, and we stand up and then we sit down,” said the witness.

“The chief catechist would stand up and start singing. Kony would get up after the singing is complete,” he said. He said he knew there were several spirits Kony claimed possessed him, but the witness only remembered spirits called Who Are You, Silindi, and Juma.

There will be no hearings on Thursday at the ICC. Witness P-145 is scheduled to continue testifying on Friday.