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Kwoyelo Denies Three Counts of War Crimes

Kwoyelo was on Monday formally charged by the International Crimes Division of the High Court for 93 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity he is alleged to have committed during the conflict in Northern Uganda.
Thomas Kwoyelo Left with His Lawyers Dalton Opwonya, Evans Ochieng and Caleb Alaka Before He was Charged For War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity

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Thomas Kwoyelo, the former operations commander of the notorious rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army-LRA has denied the first three counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Kwoyelo was on Monday formally charged by the International Crimes Division of the High Court for 93 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity he is alleged to have committed during the conflict in Northern Uganda.

Kwoyelo was ushered into court while handcuffed at 10:45 Am to wait for the commencement of the trial. At 11:07 Am, a panel of three judges led him to plead to the charges. He told court he knows nothing about the crimes before pleading not guilty to the first three counts related to murder of protected civilians.

He appeared before a panel of three justices headed by Persis Jane Kiggundu in Court Room I of the High Court in Gulu. The other members of the panel are Justices Duncan Gaswagga and Michael Elubu.

The prosecution alleges that Kwoyelo wilfully commanded systematic inhumane attacks on civilians who were raped, Kidnapped, murdered, enslaved, tortured and imprisoned. Many were also enlisted into LRA ranks as fighters.

Harriet Ssaali, the registrar of the International Crimes Division of the High Court read out the preliminary information of the charges before reading each counts individually. He entered plea for each count separately.

Cue in: "Kwoyelo Thomas is charged...

Cue out: "...the civilian populations"//

Justice Michael Elubu guided Kwoyelo to enter plea after confirming that he had understood the charges. He is accused of contravening the penal code Act and the Geneva Convention. 

Kwoyelo keenly followed through a Luo interpreter Agnes Akello as his lawyers Caleb Alaka and Ochieng Evans followed the proceedings.

Speaking in his native Luo language, Kwoyelo told Court that he "does not know anything to do with the charges and pleaded not guilty". Kwoyelo is also represented by Charles Dalton Opwonya and Borris Anyuru on state briefs. 

On the prosecution, bench was William Byansi, an assistant director of the Public Prosecutions assisted by two Principal State Attorneys, Florence Akello and Charles Richard Kamuuli while victims are being represented by Henry Komakech Kilama and Jane Amooti.

The proceeding which began at 11:07 am were adjourned for 20 minutes after the defence led by Alaka objected that Kwoyelo can't enter plea on count four due to incomplete disclosure of the elements of the charge.

The elements relate to abductions and holding hostage of witnesses identified as C4, C5, C6, C7 and C19 and C20 in the indictment. Alaka said it would be unfair for Kwoyelo to plead to something he does not understand.

Opwonya said that they were waiting for the full disclosure which prosecution had promised to avail in an hour. 

William Byansi, the Lead Prosecutor said they acted in accordance with Rule 22 (3) (c) and (d) of the ICD Rules of Procedure to protect witnesses in the case. The rule governs restrictions of disclosure of evidence and particulars of witnesses and victims.

Kwoyelo who also served as the Intelligence officer and in charge of sick bays faces 94 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity he is alleged to have committed while commanding operations in Kilak Hills in present-day Amuru district between 1992 and 2005.

Dressed in a black suit over a light green shirt, Kwoyelo appeared composed throughout the preamble and the charging session. He is accused of commanding attacks on civilians in Abera and Pagak villages, and Pabbo, internally displaced persons' camp in Amuru district, were attacked and destroyed between 1992 and 2005.

Kwoyelo's wife Grace Auma, and another unidentified were the only relatives present in the courtroom. Others followed the proceeding from a tent outside the court facility. Court was majorly occupied by non-governmental organizations, media and state officials.