Sat, Jan 23, 2016 - Page 7 News List

War crimes court hears Ugandan rebels’ atrocities

AFP, THE HAGUE, Netherlands

War crimes prosecutors on Thursday lifted the veil on a campaign of terror by the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda, telling how children were beaten and bullied to become soldiers, with some burnt alive.

Former LRA commander Dominic Ongwen faces 70 charges including war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court, where prosecutors described years of brutality, rape and cruelty, even acts of cannibalism.

“For well over a decade until his arrest in January last year, Dominic Ongwen was one of the most senior commanders in the LRA,” prosecutor Benjamin Gumpert told the Hague-based court.

A former child soldier turned rebel commander, Ongwen “was the tip of the spear” of the movement, Gumpert said.

He is the first commander of the LRA to appear before the court, which has also issued an arrest warrant for the group’s fugitive chief Joseph Kony, who has evaded an international manhunt for years.

Gruesome images of the bodies of LRA victims, burned out huts and the abandoned corpses of children were shown to the three-judge panel on the opening day of the hearing.

Witnesses said Ongwen, who is about 40, ordered his hostages “at least on one occasion to kill, cook and eat civilians,” Gumpert said.

Prosecutors are seeking to convince the judges that the evidence is solid enough to put him in the dock.

The judges are to rule on whether the case can proceed at a later date.

They allege that from 2002 to 2005, Ongwen “bears significant responsibility” for “terrifying attacks” in northern Uganda.

Dressed in a grey suit, lilac shirt and grey tie, Ongwen, who turned himself in to US special forces in January last year, listened intently to the prosecutor.

However, in a brief address to the court, he insisted reading out the charges was “a waste of time.”

Ongwen, whose surname means “White Ant” in his native Acholi language, was one of Kony’s deputies.

The LRA is accused of slaughtering more than 100,000 people and abducting 60,000 children in its bloody rebellion against Kampala that began in 1986.

The prosecution, which was to resume the hearing on Tuesday, is focusing on four attacks on camps in northern Uganda housing people forced to flee from the LRA.

More than 130 people — many of them children and babies — died in the attacks and hundreds of others were abducted, prosecutors said.

In one attack on the Pajule camp in October 2003, forces under Ongwen’s command carried out an early morning raid.

“There was a boy who tried to run away. He was shot in the stomach and his intestines spilled out,” said prosecutor Kamran Choudhry, quoting a witness.

The two children of another witness were locked in a hut and “he was forced to watch as LRA fighters called for fire and set the hut ablaze,” Choudhry said.

After the attack at least 200 civilians were captured in “one of the largest instances of mass abductions in the history of the LRA.”

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