Child soldier turned LRA commander says he was powerless to stop atrocities

FILE PHOTO: Lord's Resistance Army ex-commander Dominic Ongwen who is accused of participating in the LRA's alleged crimes, sits in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands February 4, 2021. ICC-CPI/Handout via REUTERS

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - A former Ugandan child soldier who became one of the top commanders of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army told judges at the International Criminal Court on Thursday that he was not responsible for any atrocities and felt powerless to stop them.

In a defiant, sometimes meandering, unsworn statement to the court, Dominic Ongwen cast himself as a victim, saying he could not ask forgiveness for his alleged crimes because he was not responsible for them.

"I cannot ask everyone in northern Uganda for forgiveness when there were other people in northern Uganda who were corrupt, who were encouraging this (war)," he told judges.

Led by fugitive warlord Joseph Kony, the LRA terrorised Ugandans for nearly 20 years as it battled the government of President Yoweri Museveni from bases in northern Uganda and neighbouring countries. It has now largely been wiped out.

Ongwen, who was arrested in 2015, was convicted in February of dozens of crimes including rape, sexual enslavement, child abductions, torture and murder. Prosecutors have sought a prison sentence of at least 20 years for him. [nL8N2M72F0]

"I did not have any capacity to stop the things that were happening," he said, adding that his time in the LRA haunts him to this day and makes it hard to sleep.

"Every time I have hallucinations, I hear gun shots, I hear people talking. I see dead bodies, people I killed, people I slaughtered," he told judges.

Ongwen was speaking in a special hearing to discuss his punishment. Ongwen and his defence are calling for a sentence of no more than 10 years.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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