, THE HAGUE, Netherlands, Jan 26 – Notorious former Lord’s Resistance Army commander Dominic Ongwen made his first appearance before the International Criminal Court on Monday, accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The initial hearing for the Ugandan child soldier-turned-warlord came days after he was transferred to The Hague-based court following his surprise surrender to US troops earlier this month.
A calm, composed Ongwen wore a blue suit, white shirt and blue-and-grey plaid tie as he identified himself as born in Gulu in northern Uganda in 1975.
“I’d like to thank God for creating Heaven and Earth, together with everyone that’s on Earth,” Ongwen said.
“I was abducted in 1988 and I was taken to the bush when I was 14 years old,” he said in Acholi.
“Prior to my arrival at court I was a soldier in the LRA,” said Ongwen, with short hair rather than the trademark dreadlocks of his time as an LRA commander. READ: Ugandan LRA rebel commander to be tried at ICC: army.
Defence counsel Helene Cisse noted that since his abduction, Ongwen had been “denied any access to education”.
Ongwen is the first leader of the brutal Ugandan rebel army led by the fugitive Joseph Kony to appear before the ICC, created to try the world’s worst crimes.
Known as the “White Ant”, Ongwen was one of the most senior commanders of the LRA, which is accused of killing more than 100,000 people and abducting some 60,000 children in a bloody rebellion that started in 1987.
He has been wanted for war crimes for almost a decade by the ICC, in its oldest-running case to date.
The United States had offered a $5-million reward for his capture.
Judge Ekaterina Trendafilova read Ongwen his rights and the charges were put to him, which included a deadly attack on a refugee camp in 2004.
He was not required to respond to the charges at this stage in the proceedings.
Trendafilova set the date for Ongwen’s next appearance for August 24, when hearings will start to determine if he should face trial.