When Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) launched its operations in Teso sub-region on June 15, 2003, thousands were horrified and devastated.
The eerie cloud of uncertainty ruled the community, which for years had weathered turbulent times of cattle rustling and settled into subsistence farming.
Due to unpreparedness of the State apparatus to shield the unsuspecting residents from LRA, the residents were ravaged by the six-month mayhem.
The people were hauled into squalid camps to live a life punctuated with famine, anguish and some were relegated to life on the streets.
The rebels, who shot their way through Obalanga Sub-county, Amuria District, launched attacks on IDP camps and villages, mutilating and bludgeoning many before disappearing with scores of children who have never been seen to date.
Due to the untimely response of the UPDF, the population united and formed a militia that was later christened The Arrow Group, comprising of Arrow Girls and Arrow Boys.
The first local resistance against the LRA was started by Mr Julius Ochen, then LC5 councillor for Katakwi District representing Obalanga Sub-county. Ochen is the current MP for Kapelebyong County.
The feat by Mr Ochen saw the arrival of generals Moses Ali and Jeje Odongo to supervise the arrow group that was placed under the leadership of the UPDF. This was after President Museveni held a war cabinet in Soroti to plan how to repulse the LRA from Teso.
That meeting directed UPDF to arm the militias following a petition by Teso MPs, read by former Soroti Woman MP Alice Alaso in a separate meeting between Gen Museveni and Teso leadership.
The insurgency also saw the arrival of Mr Musa Ecweru, then Kasese RDC, who relocated to Soroti to reinforce the militias. Ecweru is now State minister for Relief and Disaster Preparedness.
The Soroti war cabinet directed that the leadership and coordination of the Arrow Group be streamlined. This occasioned a meeting at Soroti Hotel where Opposition leaders were locked out, allowing Mike Mukula to take position of chairperson of the Arrow Group while then State minister for Security Betty Akech took up position of coordinator of Elephant Brigade militia in Acholi sub-region while Mr Okot Ogong was appointed the coordinator of Amuka (Rhino) militia in Lango sub-region.
There is contestation over who was the brainchild of the arrow militias between Ochen, on the one hand, and Musa Ecweru and Mike Mukula on the other. Each claims credit for helping the UPDF flash out LRA from Teso in 2004.
The bad blood between MP Ochen, minister Ecweru, and NRM vice chairperson Mukula again came to the fore after the MP testified in the case against former LRA commander Dominic Ongwen at The Hague, Netherlands, on March 25.
During his cross-examination at the ICC presided over by judge Bertram Schmitt and Ayena Odongo as defence lawyer, Ochen cited lack of political will to end the war, claiming it was “deliberately” prolonged to punish the north and north eastern regions for supporting previous governments.
In his lengthy testimony, Ochen referred to how government soldiers benefited from the war, and the existence of unmarked mass graves containing remains of persons allegedly killed by NRA.
Ochen also accuses Ecweru and Mukula of picking the remains of a man killed in crossfire and displaying it at Soroti Sports Ground as the body of Ongwen.
“I gave the truth, nothing but the truth about what I know about Dominic Ongwen, and the untold story of the misery that Teso has gone through, which for many years remained untold to the outside world,” Mr Ochen told Sunday Monitor after returning from the ICC.
“I never saw Ongwen anywhere in Teso, if they who claim to have seen him as Arrow commanders saw him, they should wait for their turn to testify. I don’t absolve LRA of its atrocities in Teso, Lango, and Acholi. It is a constant, they committed crime. But I never saw Dominic Ongwen in Teso.”
But Ecweru says Ochen is a liar and a traitor, adding that security agencies know that Ongwen operated in Teso and abductions were made under his orders.
“My people of Teso treat Ochen as a betrayer,” he says.
Former Soroti Municipality MP Mukula on the other hand says Ochen is a “Yudah” (traitor).
“We shaded blood to pacify Teso from the hands of LRA, leaving orphans as result of that war. We have been betrayed by this testimony at ICC,” he added. “To you the press, look at Honourable Ochen as a populist. We can expose him the more, we have information of how he ended up at ICC.”
But Ochen maintains that his selection was merit-based following his record in documenting the atrocities in Teso right from his youthful days, then as LC5 councillor and social worker with the Catholic Church.
Mr Mukula also adds that they never claimed that Ongwen was killed, but rather it was LRA commanders Tabu Ley and Opio.
“During that onslaught we had information that Ongwen was among the brigade that made way to Teso, and the only person to have remained behind was LRA boss Joseph Kony. There is no way MP Ochen could deny that Dominic Ongwen was not here. Communication with his boss Kony that was intercepted by the UPDF clearly showed his presence here,” Mukula says.
The arrow militias insist they have never been fully compensated, pointing fingers at their commanders. And Mr Ochen has always inquired about a tractor given to the Arrow Boys, putting him on a collision course with Mukula and Ecweru.
Asked about the issue of the Arrow Group emoluments and whereabouts of the tractor, the State minister for Relief and Disaster Preparedness refused to respond on the matter.
“I have other better things to do than reply to an idiot,” the minister said.
But Mr Mukula says all benefits for the arrow boys were paid up by the late Brig Noble Mayombo, and 1,800 boys were recruited into police while more than 2,000 were absorbed in the UPDF.
Mr Mukula says the tractor is still intact and all Arrow Boys interested in using it only have to fuel it, adding that ox ploughs were given to the group and they are also among the key beneficiaries of Operation Wealth Creation.
“I am not interested in opening old wounds, but our brother should tread carefully. We have deeper information about him,” Mr Mukula warns.