A former long-serving member of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) told the International Criminal Court (ICC) Dominic Ongwen told him he sent fighters to attack the barracks at Odek, but civilians were caught in the crossfire and were also killed.
Witness P-085 told the court on Friday, February 23, he had this conversation with Ongwen about a 2004 LRA attack on Odek sometime after the attack. He said he first heard about the attack on FM radio, and when he met Ongwen he asked him about what he heard on radio.
The witness testified on Friday and Monday in the trial of Ongwen, a former LRA commander. Ongwen has been charged with 13 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the LRA’s April 29, 2004 attack on Odek.
He has also been charged for his alleged role in attacks on three other IDP camps, sex crimes, and conscripting child soldiers between July 2002 and December 2005. In total, he faces 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
It was while he was responding to questions from prosecutor Adesola Adeboyejo that Witness P-085 told the court on Friday about what Ongwen said about the Odek attack.
Witness P-085 said his group and Ongwen’s met by accident. However, his group was low on supplies, so he asked Ongwen whether they had any medication or soap. He said that is when he took the opportunity to ask Ongwen about what he heard on Mega FM.
“He [Ongwen] responded, ‘Yeah, they went and attacked the barracks. They took six guns, four SMGs, one G2, and one recoiler, B10.’ He told me, ‘Yes, I did send my people to Odek, and they went and they attacked the barracks’,” said Witness P-085.
“Did he tell you what happened to the civilians?” asked Adeboyejo.
“Well, with respect to the civilians, he told me the civilians were shot during the crossfire. So, he does not know how the civilians were caught in the crossfire, whether they were trying to flee. He does not know what they were trying to do,” replied Witness P-085.
On Monday, Witness P-085 testified about the LRA’s choice of targets, and the targets Ongwen was known to attack. He testified about this when responding to questions from Ongwen’s lead lawyer, Krispus Ayena Odongo.
“You stayed in the bush for a fairly long period of time. Normally there were two targets [the LRA could choose]. Military or civilians. What was Dominic Ongwen renowned for attacking, military targets or attacking civilians?” asked Odongo.
“Civilians were not targeted in their homes. Civilians would stay in their homes,” replied Witness P-085. He said because LRA units did not have a base to operate from, and they were regularly on the move, sometimes civilians would be attacked in the bush. However, the attacks in the bush were never planned.
“It [an attack on civilians] was never prearranged except the times when the civilians moved to the camps,” said the witness. He said the LRA usually targeted military barracks.
“But the army barracks and civilian camps were in the same location. Once you start firing, bullets do not discriminate,” said Witness P-085.
“Based on your question whether Dominic was renowned for attacking civilians … I did not hear about him attacking civilians because they do not make any plans to go and attack civilians,” said Witness P-085.
Witness P-085 told the court he was abducted in 1990, and he escaped the LRA in 2004. He said during this time he was first assigned to Control Altar, which is the LRA’s high command. He said later he went to Sinia brigade and Stockree brigade.
A lot of the questions Witness P-085 was asked during his testimony on Friday and Monday were about how the LRA was organized, which individuals were responsible for what, and what the LRA’s aim was in the conflict in northern Uganda.
Thomas Obhof, a lawyer representing Ongwen who also questioned Witness P-085, asked the witness about the people who made up the LRA high command in 2003, and who were the brigade and battalion commanders in 2003.
Witness P-085 was also asked about LRA leader Joseph Kony, what Kony said spirits told him, and what Kony said were the aims of the LRA.
Obhof also asked Witness P-085 to narrate what he knew about the killing of Otti Lagony and Okello Ocan Ladonga in 1999. The witness said Lagony at the time was the deputy leader of the LRA and Ladonga was the acting commander of Gilva brigade. The witness said he was one of Kony’s escorts at the time Lagony and Ladonga were killed.
Witness P-085 said Kony had Lagony and Ladonga killed because he suspected the two were planning to surrender to the Ugandan government with some of their fighters. He said Kony did not act immediately on his suspicions. The witness said Kony first summoned the two to Sudan from Uganda where they were.
He told the court Kony then observed them and one thing Kony noticed was that Lagony communicated on his radio at midnight when usually the last communication between LRA commanders was at six in the evening. Witness P-085 said some time afterwards Kony called a meeting of all senior commanders, including Lagony and Ladonga. He said the meeting was held in place called Insitu in Sudan.
The witness said soon after that meeting ended some officers went to search the houses of Lagony and Ladonga and found guns that were not the ones LRA commanders usually had. Witness P-085 said it was at this point that Lagony and Ladonga were arrested. He said he was present when this happened.
Witness P-085 said Lagony and Ladonga were then taken to Jebelen and along the way they were killed. He said a commander called Matata together with two other commanders, Buk Abudema and Acal Calo Apar, took Lagony and Ladonga to Jebelen. Witness P-085 said it is Kony who told him and others that Lagony and Ladonga were killed on the way to Jebelen.
“Did these executions, did this instill fear in the people who were still in the LRA?” asked Obhof.
“It did instill fear because to witness big commanders being executed would instill fear in people, and the people who were together with these two commanders did not see what happened,” answered Witness P-085.
“Mr. Witness, was Dominic Ongwen, was he there for the stuff that you personally witnessed in Insitu?” asked Obhof.
“No. Because the people, they only summoned the senior ranking commanders not the junior ranking commanders, so I did not see him in that group,” replied the witness.
After being cross-examined by Obhof and Odongo on Monday, Witness P-085 concluded his testimony. Witness P-209 began testifying on Tuesday.