Monday July 11 2011

LRA commander Thomas Kweyelo trial begins in Gulu town

TALK TALK: Kwoyelo before he was captured. FILE PHOTO

TALK TALK: Kwoyelo before he was captured. FILE PHOTO 

By James Eriku

Hundreds of people are attending the court session, the first for a top LRA commander in Gulu town. The former Operations commander for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group is facing charges of willful killings, taking of hostages, extensive destruction of property and causing injury to people.

Kweyelo, who has been in detention since his capture in 2008, arrived at Gulu High Court a short while ago. He is represented by city lawyer Caleb Alaka, who at the weekend complained that the first International Crimes Division case involving his client lacks “transparency”.

The High Court sitting is about a kilometre out of Gulu town. Kweyelo’s trial is the first of wanted LRA commanders since the ICC indictment of his bush colleagues Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo and Raska Lukwiya.

The trial is being presided over by Justices Akiiki Kiiza, Elizabeth Ibanda Nahamya and Alfonse Owiny Dolo – all judges of the War Crimes Division of Uganda’s High Court, renamed International Crimes Division.

The Ugandan military captured Kweyelo in a battle in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Two of the five LRA commanders indicted by ICC remain at large and are believed to be leading continuing rebel assaults in parts of DRC, South Sudan’s Western Equatorial State and Central African Republic.

Who is Thomas Kwoyelo?

Thomas Kwoyelo is a former commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), who is from Acut Cama village, Pabbo Sub-county in Amuru district.
His exact birth date is not known, but is he said to have been born between 1968 and 1972.

He went to Pawel Langeta Primary School but dropped out in primary four due to lack of school fees.

His peers describe him as a jolly person. Kwoyelo’s childhood friends fondly referred to him as a scooter (a famous kind of motorcycle) because of his athletic abilities. He was also a passionate performer of a traditional dance called ayije. He was also a farmer and hunter.

Kwoyelo is said to have joined the Uganda Peoples Democratic Army rebels in the late 1980s. However, when the rebel outfit was disbanded, he returned home but was reportedly arrested by the National Resistance Army (now UPDF) at the age of 17 together with his two brothers after he was found in possession of a gun. He was jailed for three years in Luzira before he was released around 1990.

Little is known of how he joined the rebels. Kwoyelo held the rank of colonel in the LRA and commanded the Sinia Brigade.
Former abductees describe him a reserved man and say he largely kept to himself.

He was injured and captured in March 2009 in a battle with UPDF in DR Congo and flown into the country. Images of a frail man, on drip as he was helped out of the UPDF plane appeared on front pages of newspapers.