Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Witness Says Ongwen Feared Escaping the LRA Because of ICC Arrest Warrant

A former captain of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that he confided in Dominic Ongwen nine years ago about his plans to escape the rebel group, hoping Ongwen would join him.
Witness P-209 told the court Ongwen listened to his proposal but told him that he feared the ICC arrest warrant issued against him. Witness P-209 said he did not fear Ongwen would reveal his plans because he knew at the time Ongwen was not on good terms with LRA leader Joseph Kony, just like himself. Both of them knew they could be killed at any time.

The witness testified in the trial of Ongwen between Tuesday, February 27, and Wednesday, February 28. Ongwen, a former LRA commander, has been charged for his alleged role in a long list of crimes allegedly committed between July 2002 and December 2005.

The crimes Ongwen has been charged with include attacks on four camps for internally displaced people (IDP), sex crimes, and conscripting child soldiers. In total, he is facing 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Ongwen has pleaded not guilty to all counts.

Witness P-209 told the court that from the time he was abducted in 1994 he feared escaping the LRA because, among other things, he had seen at least one person killed when that person was caught after trying to escape. He said it was only in 2008 that he decided to escape because he concluded he could do so without risking the lives of his fellow villagers. Witness P-209 said he had witnessed that when someone escaped from the LRA, the village they were from was attacked as punishment for that person escaping.

He did not explain in open court why he thought that would not happen in 2008, but one explanation may be that that year the LRA was not in Uganda and most LRA members were camped in two areas, Ri-Kwangba and Owiny Ki-Bul, along the border of Sudan and Congo. This was a condition for peace talks at that time that the then autonomous government of Southern Sudan mediated.

Krispus Ayena Odongo, Ongwen’s lead lawyer, followed up on this issue of villages being collectively punished for the escape of an LRA member when he cross-examined Witness P-209 on February 28.
“You are abducted forcefully, if you are lucky and able to escape without being caught again then they would go to your area, the area where you were abducted from. Whether or not they find you is beside the point,” said Witness P-209, adding that the LRA killed whomever they found in the village.

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