KAMPALA. The UPDF has said it has positively identified the man who surrendered to Seleka rebels as Maj Gen Dominic Ongwen, one of the notorious commanders of the LRA.
Gen Ongwen, who had been in the hands of the US Special Forces since Tuesday has been handed over to UPDF troops in Central African Republic (CAR).
“He [Gen Ongwen] is with us now and consultations between the government of Uganda, the African Union, United Nations and the International Criminal Court are ongoing for the way forward on his future,” Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, the UPDF spokesperson said yesterday. “His surrender puts the LRA in the most vulnerable position,” he added.
Gen Ongwen, is one of the five LRA commanders, who were in 2005 indicted by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity. In the same year, the American government put a $5m (about Shs13 billion) bounty on his head for anyone who may have information leading to his arrest or transfer or conviction.
The UPDF had reported Gen Ongwen dead in October 2005 but The Hague-based ICC reported in 2006 the genetic fingerprinting confirmed was not him. On Saturday, he surrendered to Seleka rebels at Kafia Kingi at the CAR - South Sudan border before he was airlifted by the American forces to the tactical base in Obo.
At the time of defection he was second in command in LRA ranks. He is infamously known to have commanded the notorious Sinia Brigade which reportedly committed several atrocities in northern Uganda. The LRA led by the reclusive Joseph Kony waged an atrocious war in the north before its fighters fled into the jungles of DRC and CAR.
Referral to ICC unclear
Senior officials in the government voiced further on consultations with The Hague to decide whether he should be forwarded for trial.
The Permanent Secretary in the Foreign Affairs ministry, Ambassador James Mugume, said the two parties would discuss the ICC “Complementarity Principle”, which gives states first responsibility and rights to prosecute international crimes such as those allegedly committed by Ongwen.
“Our legal team will have consultative mechanisms with parties concerned and decide. But we also have duly constituted courts that try him,” Mr Mugume said in reference to the ICC.
The Minister of Defence, Dr Crispus Kiyonga, speaking at the sidelines of the Amison retreat in Kampala, said “from a political and operation point of view, it’s good we have him.”
“It doesn’t matter whether he goes to ICC or we try him here, the issue is that we have him. The question of him getting amnesty is a matter that will be decided,” Dr Kiyonga said.
Meanwhile, the New York-based Human Rights Watch group (HRW) in a statement issued yesterday urged the parties involved to immediately surrender Gen Ongwen for justice to be served.
“The apprehension of Gen Dominic Ongwen would be a major opportunity to advance justice for the LRA’s long record of atrocities,” said Ida Sawyer, HRW’s senior researcher for Africa. “For 10 years he has been a fugitive, sought on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the ICC. He should be promptly surrendered to face justice.”
The young rebel
Known as the White Ant, Dominic Ongwen was a 10-year-old boy walking to school in northern Uganda when he was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel movement (LRA) and turned into one of its most ruthless commanders, according to campaign group LRA Crisis Tracker.
After his abduction in 1990, Gen Ongwen - whose surname means “born at the time of the white ant” - rose rapidly in rebel ranks, becoming a major at the age of 18 and a brigadier by his late 20s after winning the confidence of LRA leader Joseph Kony.
Claiming to fight for a biblical state, the LRA has killed more than 100,000 people and kidnapped more than 60,000 children.
Ongwen and Kony relationship. Gen Ongwen also had a volatile relationship with Mr Kony, opposing the execution of deputy LRA chief Vincent Otti in 2007 after the two fell out. According to some LRA defectors Gen Ongwen was the only commander who pleaded with Kony to spare Otti’s life, a move that weakened his influence within the LRA.
Protected. Defectors also report that Kony spared Gen Ongwen from the subsequent purge of Otti loyalists due to his value to the LRA, particularly his ability to lead troops on daring missions.