Captured Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel chief Dominic Ongwen will be sent to the International Criminal Court to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, Uganda’s military and the United States said on Tuesday.
The ICC has sought Ongwen, who is in custody of US special forces after surrendering in the Central African Republic (CAR) last week, for almost a decade to face charges including murder, enslavement, inhumane acts and directing attacks against civilians.
“Finally it has been decided, Dominic Ongwen will be tried at the ICC in The Hague,” Ugandan army spokesperson Paddy Ankunda said, ending speculation that Kampala might seek to put the ex-rebel on trial in a local court.
“Ongwen will be conveyed to The Hague by CAR authorities … in consultation with the relevant bodies,” Ankunda said, adding that he would be transferred “hopefully very soon” without giving further details.
In Washington, state department spokesperson Marie Harf said Ongwen will be turned over to the African Union Regional Task Force and then transferred to the ICC in The Hague.
“The United States understands that the governments of CAR and Uganda have consulted and are in agreement that Ongwen will then be transferred to ICC to face justice for his alleged crimes,” Harf said.
‘Third party’ surrender
Earlier in the day, the Pentagon said Ongwen was initially delivered to US forces after surrendering to “a third party” that claimed to be rebels from the Muslim Seleka movement, said spokesperson Colonel Steven Warren.
The LRA has been blamed for the slaughter of more than 100 000 people and kidnapping of more than 60 000 children during a three decade-long campaign across five central African nations.
A former child soldier, Ongwen was a senior aide to LRA leader and warlord Joseph Kony.
Ongwen, who is in his mid-30s, is accused of directing bloody campaigns in northern Uganda in the early 2000s in which thousands of people were killed or abducted and turned into child soldiers or sex slaves. Other abductees were deployed to carry out attacks on civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
ICC spokesperson Fadi El Abdallah said the court welcomed “all co-operation” that led to wanted suspects being brought to trial.
Known as the White Ant, Ongwen’s troops excelled in punishment raids, which involved slicing off the lips and ears of victims as grim calling cards.
The US state department accused him of “murder, enslavement and cruel treatment of civilians” and offered a $5-million bounty for information leading to his capture.
Uganda is a signatory to the ICC and is legally bound to hand over wanted suspects to the court.
But Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni last month called for African nations to quit the ICC, accusing the court of being used as a “tool to target” the continent.
More than 12 000 ex-LRA fighters – mainly foot soldiers who were abducted by the gunmen – have been pardoned under a government amnesty designed to encourage those still living in the bush to surrender.
But presidential spokesperson Lindah Nabusayi said on Tuesday that the amnesty did not cover those accused of crimes against humanity or those wanted by the ICC, saying the president would not “pardon terrorists who have abused the sanctity of human life”.
Bands of soldiers
Long driven out of Uganda, small bands of LRA fighters now roam the forest regions of CAR, the DRC, Sudan and South Sudan.
Kony, who claims mystical-religious powers, reportedly has been based in the Sudanese-controlled Kafia Kingi enclave in recent years.
Uganda is leading an African Union mission, backed by US special forces, to hunt down top LRA commanders.
On Monday, Uganda’s NTV television station broadcast an audio interview with a man they said was Ongwen, appealing to remaining fighters to surrender.
He said he fled because Kony wanted to kill him, telling comrades he “only wants to be chief and for you to work for him like a slave”.
ICC arrest warrants were issued for five LRA commanders, but after Ongwen’s capture and the killing of other movement leaders, only Joseph Kony and Okot Odhiambo remain at large. Uganda has said Odhiambo may also have been killed. – AFP