Dominic Ongwen’s lead lawyer confronted an Acholi chief with allegations that he was a collaborator of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), allegations that were made against him even as he was involved in peace negotiations between the Ugandan government and the rebel group.
Krispus Ayena Odongo on Thursday presented Rwot Oywak of Kola Lalogi with documents the prosecution disclosed to the defense in which an unnamed person, Ugandan military intelligence, and the paramount chief of the Acholi were reported to express or expressed suspicions that Rwot Oywak worked with the LRA.
Rwot Oywak denied being a collaborator with the LRA and insisted any contact he had with the LRA was in the context of his involvement in peace negotiations between the Ugandan government and the rebel group.
Ongwen is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his alleged role in crimes committed in northern Uganda between 2002 and 2005. Rwot Oywak is a traditional chief of an area that covers Pajule, where a camp for internally displaced people (IDP) was attacked by the LRA on October 10, 2003. Ongwen is facing 10 counts for the attack on Pajule and another 36 counts for attacks on three other IDP camps, namely, Abok, Lukodi, and Odek. In total, Ongwen faces 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
On Thursday, Odongo began the line of questioning about the allegations against Rwot Oywak by asking him whether he had heard that Sudan supplied the LRA with arms. Rwot Oywak said he did not know anything about that, and he and the negotiation team he was part of did not ask the LRA leaders they met what was the source of their arms or money or supplies.
“You would have ruined the talks,” said Rwot Oywak.
“Apart from those, like the government of Sudan, who supplied them [LRA] with weapons, can you tell court whether there were individual collaborators both in the diaspora and in Uganda?” asked Odongo.
“I never heard that, but I hear from the LRA … they recovered guns during battle. To say that so and so bought it for us, they never mentioned,” replied Rwot Oywak, referring to discussions with LRA leaders during peace talks.
A little later, Odongo read out to Rwot Oywak an excerpt from a prosecution investigator’s report, which referred to a conversation the investigator had with a person who was not named in court who told the investigator that it was suspected Rwot Oywak encouraged the LRA to continue fighting even as he was involved in peace negotiations.
“I respond to it in this way, my coordination and contact with the LRA was in regard to peace talks,” replied Rwot Oywak.
Odongo then read an excerpt of another document in which it is reported that some unnamed men from London met in May 2005 with the then deputy leader of the LRA, Vincent Otti, in an unnamed place near Pajule. Also reported present at the meeting was someone called Okuti.
“It was later mentioned via a Rwandan army commander that it was Akena Pojok who gave the money for those phones via Rwot Oywak,” read part of the excerpt that Odongo read out in court.
“Do you know, first of all, a man called Akena Pojok?” asked Odongo.
“I am equally surprised. I do not know Akena Pojok. I do not know anyone who brought money to buy phones. I am just seeing it now,” responded Rwot Oywak.
Next, Odongo read out an excerpt from a report from Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, “Oywak is a known collaborator. He is a conduit to get supplies to the LRA from England.”
“Did you get that Rwot Oywak?” asked Odongo.
“That is not true. I did not get anything from anyone in London to give to the LRA apart from getting a letter from the LRA to bring to the table for peace talks,” answered Rwot Oywak.
“In regard to that, it is not true because if it was true, a whole army chief assumes that I do such a thing [but] he has never summoned me,” said Rwot Oywak.
Odongo then read an excerpt of a report of a meeting of the umbrella organization of the Acholi chiefs, Ker Kwaro Acholi, during which it was alleged that Rwot Oywak was considered, “a dubious character.”
The paramount chief of the Acholi is reported to have said in the meeting, “The Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative used to give him money for the contacts that he facilitated for the peace process. UPDF [Uganda People’s Defense Forces] is very concerned about him. If he was an ordinary person, he would have been arrested. One time I told Oywak that the LRA has a problem with me. He told me not to worry, he will take care of it. He communicates with people in London, that is how he has a satellite phone. A week ago, Otti requested Oywak to get phone reception. You have to be careful what you say in this committee because it will get back to the LRA.”
In response to the excerpt that was read out to him, Rwot Oywak said, “I am just hearing this for the first time. I do not know anything about it. All I know, I coordinate with the LRA to fulfill the mission that I was assigned. There was no collaboration with the LRA.”
Later Odongo asked Rwot Oywak about his testimony the previous day when he described what happened during the attack on Pajule in 2003.
Odongo asked Rwot Oywak about his testimony that when he was abducted, he was given a 60-kilogram sack of rice to carry from Pajule to Latanya, which he had said was as far as six miles from Pajule.
“Rwot Oywak, somebody told this court that as a matter of fact from the beginning people knew you were a chief, and therefore you were the only person who did not carry luggage?” asked Odongo.
“That is not correct. When the person said that where was he?” replied Rwot Oywak. Odongo told him that the person was also abducted during the attack on Pajule [Odongo was referring to the testimony of Witness P-249 on Monday].
“It could be he is saying the correct thing because you do not carry luggage” throughout, said Rwot Oywak. He said when one got tired, someone else carried the load. “I did not carry the luggage right from Pajule right to Latanya.”
Odongo then asked Rwot Oywak whether he played a role in the attack on Pajule.
“It is being suggested Rwot Oywak that prior to the attack you had a telephone conversation with [LRA deputy leader] Vincent Otti where you actually told Vincent Otti that … the population of Pajule are at the most vulnerable on Independence Day … So many people come from out of town, so if you want to pick stuff, this is the time,” said Odongo.
“That I say is blatant lie. Why didn’t this information come at the time of the Garamba talks? Why does it have to come now, after Otti is dead?” replied Rwot Oywak.
Odongo then asked Rwot Oywak about his testimony that Ongwen kicked and beat him during the Pajule attack.
“The Ongwen you found limping, is this the same Ongwen holding a gun with two hands, is this same Ongwen who was strapped with a radio, is this the same Ongwen holding a stick who kicked you?” asked Odongo, referring to Rwot Oywak’s description of Ongwen during the attack.
“He is the same Ongwen whom I saw. He is the same Ongwen that yesterday I confirmed in the photographs that he is the one,” replied Rwot Oywak.
The witness will continue testifying on Friday.