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Ugandan rebel commander Ongwen faces 70 war crimes charges

1 min 34Approximate reading time

The International Criminal Court on Thursday unveiled 70 charges of war crimes against notorious Lord's Resistance Army commander Dominic Ongwen, including keeping sex slaves and recruiting child soldiers.

"For well over a decade until his arrest in January 2015, Dominic Ongwen was one of the most senior commanders in the LRA," prosecutor Benjamin Gumpert told the court.

The prosecution alleges that from 2002 to 2005, Ongwen "bears significant responsibility" for "terrifying attacks" in northern Uganda when civilians were treated by the rebel group as "the enemy".

"This was not just a civil war between people in uniform," Gumpert said, "the LRA attacked ordinary Ugandan citizens who wanted no more than to live their lives."

Addressing the court, Ongwen insisted reading out the charges was "a waste of time".

Known as the "White Ant", Ongwen listened intently as Gumpert showed a video of bodies in a grave, saying the court would also see other evidence of the "ferocity" of the attacks.

A former child-soldier-turned-warlord, Ongwen was the one-time deputy of the shadowy group's fugitive rebel leader Joseph Kony, who remains on the run despite a long international manhunt.

The LRA is accused of slaughtering more than 100,000 people and abducting 60,000 children in its bloody rebellion against Kampala that began in 1986.

In the five-day confirmation hearing, prosecutors are seeking to convince the three-judge bench that the evidence is solid enough to put Ongwen in the dock. The judges will then have to determine whether Ongwen should stand trial.

The prosecution is focusing in particular on four attacks on camps housing people forced to flee the LRA's violence.

More than 130 people -- many of them children and babies -- died in these attacks and dozens of others were abducted, prosecutors said in the court document containing the charges.

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 porous regional borders: it shifted from Uganda to sow terror in southern Sudan before moving into 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.

Born in 1975, Ongwen was transferred to The Hague a year ago shortly after he unexpectedly surrendered to US special forces operating in the Central African Republic.

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