US gives LRA commander, war crimes suspect to Ugandans

AP News
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Posted: Jan 14, 2015 2:25 PM

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — U.S. Special Forces in Obo, Central African Republic, handed over to Ugandan troops a Lord's Resistance Army commander who is charged with war crimes, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said Wednesday. He will be transferred for trial at the International Criminal Court, according to a Ugandan military official.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Daniel Travis confirmed the handover of Dominic Ongwen, who had been held by American troops since Jan. 6. Travis said it was "a major step forward" securing the future of LRA-affected areas of East and Central Africa. The LRA, led by Joseph Kony, began in Uganda in the 1980s as a tribal uprising and has been terrorizing and brutalizing civilians across a swath of Central Africa.

Ugandan army spokesman Lt. Col. Ankunda said Uganda will transfer Ongwen to Central African Republic authorities for transfer to The Hague, Netherlands, for trial of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the ICC. Ugandan troops are a major part of the African Union Regional Task Force in Central African Republic, which has a weak government and has been rocked by internal fighting in recent years.

The United Nations, African Union, Uganda and United States consulted on the decision to try Ongwen at the ICC, authorities said.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the U.S. transferred Ongwen to the custody of the African Union task force Wednesday morning. Harf confirmed Tuesday that Ongwen would be delivered to the ICC.

Although Uganda wanted to try him itself, the U.S. had concerns about how Ongwen would be treated there and whether high standards of detention and prosecution would be upheld, other officials said on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly about the diplomacy.

Ongwen, Kony and three others who have reportedly since died were charged by the ICC. The court's warrant of arrest for Ongwen lists seven counts of alleged individual criminal responsibility including crimes against humanity, enslavement, murder and inhumane acts of inflicting serious bodily injury.

Ongwen was initially turned over to the U.S. by people claiming to be members of the armed Central African Republic group Seleka, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said.

Kony became internationally notorious in 2012 when a U.S.-based advocacy group produced a widely viewed video. Despite an intensified hunt, Kony is believed to be constantly on the move across Central Africa.