Ugandan rebel pleads not guilty to rape, murder charges


THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – An alleged senior commander in the militia of fugitive warlord Joseph Kony pleaded not guilty Tuesday to 70 charges including murder, rape, forced marriages and using child soldiers during the group’s insurgency in northern Uganda.

Dominic Ongwen, whom prosecutors say is a commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army, listened intently as an official at the International Criminal Court in The Hague read out 70 charges.

“In the name of God, I deny all these charges,” he replied.

However, Ongwen cast doubt on whether he fully understood the case against him, telling judges: “I understand the charges as being brought against the LRA, but not me. I am not the LRA, the LRA is Joseph Kony.”

Earlier, the three-judge panel had rejected a last-minute defense motion seeking to postpone the trial and order psychological tests to determine if Ongwen understood the charges and was mentally fit to enter pleas.

Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said Ongwen’s comments in court demonstrated an understanding of the charges and amounted to “a dispute about Mr. Ongwen’s responsibility.”

Ongwen was himself abducted as a 14-year-old and forced to fight with Kony’s forces before rising through the ranks to allegedly become commander of the LRA’s Sinia brigade.

Ongwen, first indicted in 2005 and sent to the court early last year after surrendering to U.S. forces in Central African Republic, is the only member of Kony’s army in the court’s custody. Kony remains free despite years of efforts in northern Uganda and neighboring countries to capture him.

The LRA rebellion, which originated in Uganda in the 1980s as a tribal uprising against the government, is one of Africa’s longest and most brutal insurgencies. At the peak of its powers, the group razed villages, raped women and amputated limbs. It is especially notorious for recruiting boys to fight and for taking girls as sex slaves.

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