KAMPALA (Reuters) - A senior Lord’s Resistance Army commander who surrendered last week to the U.S. military in the Central African Republic (CAR) will be handed over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for trial, a Ugandan army spokesman said on Tuesday.
Dominic Ongwen, wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity, is a child recruit who rose through the ranks of the LRA, a group that first took up arms against Uganda in the late 1980s and gained a reputation for massacres and mutilating victims.
Uganda earlier said Ongwen’s fate was being discussed between Uganda, a critic of the ICC, and the United States, which is not a signatory to the court’s Rome Statute, as well as other African parties.
The Pentagon, which has been slow to confirm the identity of the person being held by U.S. troops, said on Tuesday it now had “high confidence” the man was Ongwen, but was still working to finalize confirmation of his identity.”
Army Colonel Steve Warren said Ongwen surrendered to people believed to be Muslim Seleka rebels and was later handed over to U.S. forces. He said he had seen reports from Uganda that Ongwen would be handed to the ICC, but he added it was too early for him to say what would ultimately be done with the LRA leader.
The Obama administration has notified senior lawmakers that Ongwen is in U.S. military custody, a congressional source said, but “we have been cautioned that logistics for the handover (to the ICC) are still in flux so we don’t have a timeline yet.”
The United States is not a signatory to the ICC and so cannot hand him directly to the court. As a result, another country or international body would have to do that.
Ugandan officials said the plan was that the CAR - where the LRA has been active and which is an ICC signatory - would surrender Ongwen to the court.
“It has been finally decided that Dominic Ongwen will be tried at The Hague. Victims will get justice as much as Ongwen,” army spokesman Paddy Ankunda told Reuters.
“Arrangements for his transfer are being made and it will be CAR that will transfer him,” he said, without giving details.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, however, said Ongwen will be handed to the Ugandan unit within African Union forces stationed in CAR, which will transfer him to the ICC.
Uganda, which in the past sought the international court’s help in bringing LRA chief Joseph Kony to justice, has more recently accused the ICC of seeking to target Africans, a common sentiment in Africa.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said in Nairobi last month that African states should quit the court.
Washington is not a member of the ICC, although it has cooperated with it in the past.
The arrest of Ongwen, 34, is a major success in the campaign to crush the Lord’s Resistance Army, which has involved African troops with U.S. military support.
The LRA is led by Joseph Kony, a former choirboy who claimed to be guided by spirits only he could hear. The group has been accused of abducting children to serve as fighters and sex slaves.
In a message first broadcast on CAR radio, Ongwen called for other LRA fighters to surrender and said Museveni had promised to pardon him under an amnesty. Uganda denied this, saying such a step was not offered those accused of crimes against humanity.
Additional reporting by George Obulutsa in Nairobi; David Alexander, Patricia Zengerle and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Andre Grenon and Alan Crosby