A former member of a Ugandan government-backed militia told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that 16 years ago he killed a senior Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander in the eastern Uganda sub-region of Teso.
Charles Opio told the court on Thursday he killed Charles Tabuley during an ambush the Arrow Boys laid for the LRA in Teso. According to prosecution witness P-070, Tabuley was LRA’s division commander when he was killed. Opio told the court on Thursday that soon after Tabuley’s death, the LRA left Teso. Witness P-070 gave similar testimony in September 2017.
Opio said he was one of the first people to join the Arrow Boys when they were formed, and he remained with the group until it disbanded after the LRA left Teso. He said during that time, he did not see Dominic Ongwen in Teso.
Ongwen is on trial for 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity he is alleged to have committed as an LRA commander between July 2002 and December 2005. He is alleged to have committed the crimes in northern Uganda. None of his charges cover the Teso sub-region. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
On Thursday, Opio said he joined the Arrow Boys in 2003. He said he left the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) to join the militia group, but he continued receiving a salary from the UPDF. Opio said the Arrow Boys was formed after the LRA attacked Lwala Girls Secondary School, an attack that was widely publicized. He said when the LRA first entered Teso they were peaceful and did not attack Teso residents.
“Do you know of any LRA commanders who went to Teso?” asked Gordon Kifudde, one of Ongwen’s lawyers.
“I know those commanders, all of them because I was the first to get hold of a gun in Teso,” replied Opio.
“Can you go ahead and tell court the commanders who came to Teso?” asked Kifudde.
“The first person was Tabuley, and he is an Itesot like me. The second Raska Lukwiya. The third Vincent Otti. The fourth Opiyo Makas. The fifth Abudema,” answered Opio.
“Did you hear of Dominic Ongwen coming to Teso?” asked Kifudde.
“I have never heard about Ongwen, and he was not seen,” replied Opio.
Teso is not one of the regions Ongwen has been charged with committing crimes in. However, the prosecution elicited evidence from some of its witnesses, arguing evidence of what Ongwen is alleged to have done in Teso provided context to the crimes he has been charged with. Whenever prosecution witnesses testified about Teso and what Ongwen is alleged to have done there, the defense protested the relevance of that evidence. The defense also refuted that Ongwen had been to Teso during his time with the LRA.
Opio is the sixth defense witness to testify about what the LRA did in Teso and whether Ongwen was there. Others who have testified are Richard Ebuju; Julius Ochen; Emmanuel Ewicho; John Mawa Okello and Michael Okwir. Ebuju, Ochen, and Ewicho said Ongwen was never in Teso. Okello and Okwir said they heard from others Ongwen was ordered to Teso to gather LRA fighters after Tabuley’s death.
On Thursday, Kifudde asked Opio whether the LRA lost any of its commanders in Teso.
“We hit and killed Tabuley in our land, in my clan, in my home area,” replied Opio. He said another LRA commander, Opiyo Makas, was killed in a different place and the rest escaped.
“Were you present when Tabuley was killed?” asked Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt.
“I am the one who killed him,” replied Opio.
“Can you tell us what happened? What you recall?” asked Judge Schmitt.
Opio said he was part of a group of 16 Arrow Boys who were providing security to civilians foraging for food. He said they noticed tracks that led up to a church. He said when they sent scouts to see what was ahead, one of them reported back that LRA were in the area.
“We laid an ambush. Tabuley came with his people and entered our ambush. That is the day when Tabuley was killed. Our own commander was hit, and also I was hit,” said Opio, referring to injuries they sustained. He also said an uncle of his was killed.
The prosecution did not question Opio nor did any of the lawyers representing victims. He concluded his testimony on Thursday.
Witness D-137 will testify on Friday.