Ugandan LRA rebel chief headed to The Hague: ICC

Captured Lord’s Resistance Army rebel chief Dominic Ongwen (C) standing next to Ugandan Contingent Commander to African Union Regional Task Force in CAR Colonel Michael Kabango (R) and lieutenant colonel Rugumayo. PHOTO| AFP


A commander of the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army who surrendered last week is on his way to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, a spokesman for the court said Tuesday.

Dominic Ongwen is one of the main leaders of the Uganda rebels, who are accused of killing more than 100,000 people in a bloody rebellion that started in 1986.

He gave himself up to US special forces in the Central African Republic last week after being wanted for nearly a decade for crimes against humanity.

The United States had offered a $5 million (4.3 million euros) reward for his capture.

“His flight took off around 1700 GMT and he should arrive tomorrow morning,” ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah told AFP.

The court said in a statement that Ongwen was “accompanied by an ICC delegation” and would go before judges as soon as possible for a preliminary hearing.

A former child soldier, Ongwen was a senior aide to LRA leader and warlord Joseph Kony, who is still at large and being pursued by regional troops and US special forces.

Ongwen’s surrender dealt a major blow to the LRA’s three-decade campaign across several central African nations.

He has been sought by the ICC to face charges that also include murder, enslavement, inhumane acts and directing attacks against civilians.

“The affected communities will now be able to see the international court address the horrible violence taking place in Uganda,” said Sidiki Kaba, president of the assembly of the ICC’s states parties.

Child soldiers

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the news of Ongwen’s transfer was “a welcome step towards justice for the victims” of the LRA.

“Today’s developments give hope — to the survivors, to the four countries affected by the LRA, and to their partners around the world — that the nightmare of the LRA can be brought to an end,” she said in a statement.

“We call on the remaining LRA members to follow the lead of the more than 250 individuals who have left the LRA since 2012 to put down their arms and return home.”

The UN Security Council, in a statement, also welcomed Ongwen’s transfer.

The LRA first emerged in northern Uganda in 1986, where it claimed to fight in the name of the Acholi ethnic group against the government of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

But over the years the LRA has moved across the porous borders of the region: it shifted from Uganda to sow terror in southern Sudan before again moving to northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and finally crossing into southeastern Central African Republic in March 2008.

Combining religious mysticism with an astute guerrilla mind and bloodthirsty ruthlessness, Kony has turned scores of young girls into his personal sex slaves while claiming to be fighting to impose the Bible’s Ten Commandments.

The LRA has been blamed for the slaughter of over 100,000 people and the kidnapping of more than 60,000 children.

Ongwen, who is in his mid-30s, is accused of directing bloody campaigns in the early 2000s in northern Uganda, where thousands of people were killed or abducted to be used as child soldiers or sex slaves.

Other hostages were used to carry out attacks on civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Ongwen’s troops excelled in punishment raids, which involved slicing off the lips and ears of victims as a grim calling card.

Uganda is a signatory to the ICC and is legally bound to hand over wanted suspects to the court.

However, Museveni last month called for African nations to quit the ICC, accusing the court of being used as a “tool to target” the continent.

Over 12,000 ex-LRA fighters — mainly footsoldiers who were themselves abducted by the gunmen — have been pardoned under a government amnesty designed to encourage those still in the bush to surrender.



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