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Kwoyelo: How Kony Arrested Me, Executed Otti on Suspicion of Defection :: Uganda Radionetwork

Kwoyelo: How Kony Arrested Me, Executed Otti on Suspicion of Defection

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He noted that when Vincent Otti returned, he was immediately arrested along with Otim Records, and Ben Acellam and moved to where Kony was staying.
Thomas Kwoyelo (C) reacts during an interaction with his defence lawyers at Gulu High Court.
The Defense trial of Ex-Lord’s Resistance Army Commander Thomas Kwoyelo alias Latoni resumed on Monday, April 22, before the International Crimes Division of the High Court sitting in Gulu City.

This comes days after the trial Judge Justice Michael Elubu adjourned the case on Friday last week on prayers of the accused through his defense lawyer Caleb Alaka about his deteriorating health. Last week, Uganda Prison authorities disclosed that Kwoyelo who underwent a medical examination at Gulu Prison Health Facility had high blood pressure, which had shot up to 147 mmHg higher than the normal 89 mmHg. 

Kwoyelo, 49 was also diagnosed with ulcers, and health authorities recommended he be availed meals timely. Kwoyelo is facing 78 counts of charges of war crimes and crimes against Humanity allegedly committed between March 1994 and January 2005 in Kilak County in the present-day Amuru district. While appearing before the four-member panel of justices of the ICD on Monday, Kwoyelo resumed the presentation of his unsworn testimony, which had entered the second week since the defense trial started on April 15 this year.

Crossing River Nile to DRC

In his defense statement, Kwoyelo recounted to the court the exodus of LRA rebels from Sudan through the River Nile to the jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), his arrest, and that of Otti on Joseph Kony’s orders over suspicion of defecting to Ugandan government and how Kony’s spirits saved his life from execution.

In 2005, according to Kwoyelo, Kony ordered Vincent Otti, his then Deputy to cross towards the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with some LRA soldiers. Otti would later heed the orders and cross with some LRA rebels to Garamba National Park in the DRC where he set up the first LRA rebel base. He told the court that Joseph Kony later picked another group of LRA soldiers to follow Vince Otti to Garamba National Park.

Kwoyelo noted that in the same year, Otti sent information via Radio calls which he (Kwoyelo) heard revealing that there were some soldiers of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) who were deployed to protect the DRC government.

According to Kwoyelo, MONUC soldiers later attacked Otti and a battle ensued between them and the LRA rebels. Otti would later send back a report of how he fought with MONUC soldiers which prompted Joseph Kony to promote Vincent Otti to the rank of Lieutenant General.

Among other commanders also promoted at the time included Okot Odhiambo who rose to a Maj. General and Caesar Acellam was promoted to the rank of Maj Gen. In the same year 2005 towards the end, according to Kwoyelo, Okot Odhiambo crossed the river Nile and followed Vicent Otti. Otti had travelled with Abuk Abudema who was then a Brigadier.

Kony Crosses to DRC He revealed that Gen. Joseph Kony also later crossed the river Nile from his headquarters in Sudan and joined Vincent Otti in Garamba National Park. After his arrival, Kwoyelo said Kony later made arrangements for the peace Juba talk with his commanders so that the negotiation could begin. 

He later also sent an order to Dominic Ongwen, then one of the Sinia Brigade commanders to evacuate soldiers who were across the river in areas of Agago and Kitgum in Northern Uganda and lead them to Owiny Kibul village, an assembly point for LRA rebels in Eastern Equatoria state in the then Sudan, now South Sudan.

Kwoyelo told the court that Kony later ordered him to cross the river to the Western side of Sudan and meet up with a group of LRA soldiers so that they all move towards Owiny Kibul. He said he was told to move with all the sick and wounded. At the time the LRA and the government of Uganda had agreed on cessation of hostility to allow LRA rebels to assemble at Owiny Kibul.

Kwoyelo told the court that by the end of 2005, all LRA rebels had left Uganda to their assembly point in the Eastern Equatoria state while some went to Garamba National Park. Other senior LRA commanders who would later be summoned into DRC by Kony were Maj. Gen Caesar Acellam who crossed the river Nile in 2006 while wounded and Brig Dominic Ongwen who had been issued an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court (ICC) that he should cross and go to him.

“After Dominic went, as Kwoyelo Thomas, I was left in Eastern Equatoria, because there were sick people with whom I was working so I remained with them. That year, it was very hard to cross River Nile, because the UPDF soldiers had intensified their deployment along the river. At every mile, there was a deployment of UPDF soldiers to block the LRA rebels from crossing into Congo,” He recounted.

He, however, says some of the LRA soldiers used their tricks and crossed the UPDF defence line while a major negotiation between the LRA and UPDF led to the removal of some deployment that saw him crossing in 2007 to Garamba National Park.

“When we reached there, the negotiations for the peace talks were proceeding. Delegations of the LRA used to visit and in all the peace talks, they were present. The first peace negotiation happened in Juba. But Kony rejected the Juba Peace talks because he didn’t want to go to Juba, so the venue was changed to Rikwamba,” he said.

Tension between Otti and Kony ensues. In 2008, according to Kwoyelo, tension ensued between Gen. Joseph Kony and Lt. General Vincent Otti. At the time, Opiyo Makasi was the Director of Operations. He noted that Kony lived separately from Otti who was at the time staying with Opiyo Makasi.

He said one day in 2008, Kony sent Lt. Gen Vincent Otti, Opiyo Makasi, Otim Records, and Ben Acellam, the then Brigade Commander of Ondo Brigade to Rikwamba in Western Equatoria in Sudan regarding the then-ongoing peace talks. 

After they had gone and spent about a day, Kwoyelo said he had an impression that Kony himself would also follow Otti there, but he however later sent a message to Otti to return to Garamba National Park in Congo.

The Arrest of Otti and Top LRA  Kwoyelo told the court that Kony later ordered the Aide-de-Camp (ADC) Otto Agweng and Abudema Abuk to select some soldiers from within his bodyguards to be on standby. After the LRA soldiers were selected, Kony instructed his commanders to arrest the escorts of Vincent Otti and disarm them. The commanders were also ordered to set up an ambush and arrest Otti, Otim Records, and Ben Acellam once they returned from Rikwamba.

Kwoyelo’s arrest At the time, Kwoyelo said he was with Joseph Kony when an order came for his arrest. “I was bound up, they tied my hand behind my back, the rope crossed through my chest and my leg too was tied. I was blindfolded with a black piece of cloth and later tied on the center pillar of the hut,” he said.

He noted that when Vincent Otti returned, he was immediately arrested along with Otim Records, and Ben Acellam and were later moved to where Kony was staying. The arrest according to him forced Opiyo Makasi, the then Director of Operations after witnessing what happened to run away to the bush together with his wife.

According to Kwoyelo, after his arrest, he spent a day bound on the center pillar of the, but Vincent Otti was taken to a different place. He noted all his escorts were disarmed and all his wives were taken to the home of the ADC of Joseph Kony, Otto Agweng.  

Killing of Vincent Otti The following day, according to him at about 9 pm or 9:30 pm, he heard the sound of gunshots similar to that of PK from a distance which he realized later was used to shoot dead Vincent Otti across a nearby stream. He later also said he heard another sound of gunshots from PK and SMG at a home nearby where the selected LRA soldiers had gone to arrest one of the commanders called Ayimaga, a Madi tribesman.

Ayimaga reportedly resisted the arrest and in retaliation, he was shot dead. The bullet also hit one of the LRA soldiers dead and the escort of Kwoyelo known as Okwera from Pader District who was in one of the huts after was also hit and injured in the thighs.

Kwoyelo said he remained bound inside the grass-thatched hut until 4 pm on the second day when Joseph Kony, his escort Lt. Col Binany, and Kony’s brother Olanya, his ADC Agweng and Ocan Labongo came to him. In the second part of this series on Kwoyelo's Defence Trial, we shall bring to you Kwoyelo's revelation on how Kony rescued him from being executed through the advice of his "spirits" and the reasons why Otti Vincent was killed.