By: Tom Maliti
A survivor of an attack on the Abok camp for internally displaced people (IDP) told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that militia guarding the camp did not confront the fighters of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) as they killed residents, cost looted, ailment and burned down their homes.
Witness P-280 told the court on Friday it is only when LRA fighters shot in the direction of the barracks that the militia engaged in a gunfight with the LRA. The witness was testifying about an attack on the Abok camp in June 2004.
Dominic Ongwen, a former LRA commander, is on trial for his alleged role in the Abok attack. He is facing 12 counts for that attack. He has also been charged with attacks on three other IDP camps, namely, Lukodi, Pajule, and Odek. In total, he is facing 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
On Friday, Witness P-280 said the LRA attacked Abok on June 8, 2004. He said the attack began after eight at night. The witness told the court earlier that day, at about six in the evening, residents of the camp had seen LRA fighters across the valley. He said he did not know whether this was reported to the militia guarding the camp. He said the militia were called Amuka.
Witness P-280 said when the attack began he was at home with his brother and family. He said they heard gunshots and other times when they had heard gunshots normally the militia asked residents to remain in their houses.
“We saw flames. When we saw the whole place was in flames we had to take off, to run away from the fire,” Witness P-280 said.
He said he, his brother, and some neighbors then hid in a ditch. He told the court a girl who was with the LRA was passing by the ditch and nearly fell into it. The witness said she saw them.
“When she shouted that there is a soldier here, there were about 30 people who bore arms, they surrounded the ditch. I was the first one to come out of the ditch. They told me to lie down on my stomach,” Witness P-280 said.
He said the others who were hiding in the ditch got out. The witness said his brother was also made to lie down, and he was shot. He said they also shot a neighbor who was hiding with him in the ditch. He said his father was also shot.
The witness said the LRA fighters who surrounded them at the ditch were a mix of young and older men.
“These young people that you saw, were they younger or older than you at the time?” asked trial lawyer Sanyu Ndagire.
“There were some younger than me, and there were some I was older than,” Witness P-280 replied.
“How could you tell that some were younger than you and others were older than you?” Ndagire asked.
“Well, I looked at them and determined based on height. I was taller than some of them, and there were some who were taller than me,” the witness said. During his testimony on Friday, Witness P-280 told the court he was 15 or 16 years old when he was abducted from Abok.
Witness P-280 told the court that he was then given a sack of beans to carry and walked with the rebels in the direction of the barracks where members of Amuka stayed. He said when he was given the sack he was warned that if he dropped it he would be killed.
“As you made your way to the barracks what did you observe?” asked Ndagire.
“It was bushy. There was a lot of shrubbery. You could see light towards the camp, but the direction we were going in was dark,” replied the witness.
“What was happening at the barracks at that time?” asked Ndagire.
“When we got to the barracks, it was quiet as if nobody was in the barracks,” answered Witness P-280. He said one of the LRA fighters shouted to find out if there was anyone at the barracks.
“That’s when they started firing. There were gunshots coming from the barracks, heavy gunshots were coming from the barracks,” said the witness.
He said the LRA fighters started retreating, “because there was heavy gunfire coming from the barracks.”
“Do we understand you correctly that the soldiers had stayed in the barracks?” asked Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt.
“Yes,” the witness replied.
Witness P-280 said from Abok they went to a place called Tegot Atoo. He said there were many members of the LRA there, and they were split into smaller groups. He said he did not know which commander was in charge because the LRA fighters only referred to their seniors as lapwony, the Acholi word for teacher.
The witness said the only thing he knew about the group that he was assigned to was they were referred to as signaller. He also said he learned a name of one of the LRA commanders, Kalalang. He told the court that when he escaped the LRA five months later, he then learned that Kalalang served under Ongwen. Witness P-280 said during his time with the LRA he was responsible for carrying ammunition, but he never learned how to use it.
Earlier on Friday, Rwot Oywak concluded his testimony during the morning session of the day’s hearing.
Ongwen’s lead lawyer, Krispus Ayena Odongo, continued with his line of questioning from Thursday, challenging the integrity of Rwot Oywak. Odongo asked him whether he remembered Ongwen giving him 10 million Ugandan shillings [approximately 2,800 dollars at current exchange rate] to buy provisions, which he never bought.
“I have never seen any money. I have never seen any money from DO,” answered Rwot Oywak.
“In your opinion, do you think that Dominic Ongwen has anything against you?” continued Odongo.
“As you are alleging, then I do believe there is some sort of contention because he is alleging something which he did not give me,” replied Rwot Oywak.
Odongo later asked him to describe the relation between the Ugandan government soldiers guarding the Pajule IDP camp and the camp residents.
“I mentioned that life in the camp was not easy. A lot of crimes were committed. The soldiers would at times abduct the girls. The LRA would abduct the girls. For that reason, the life in the camp was very difficult. It was full of criminal activities,” answered Rwot Oywak.
“So, is it your statement that the UPDF [Uganda People’s Defense Forces] and the militias in the camp raped girls and women in the camp?” asked Odongo.
“I indicated very clearly that these crimes happened in the camp, and they could happen wherever there were soldiers,” replied Rwot Oywak.
Witness P-280 will continue testifying on Monday.