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Uganda charges rebel leader in first war crimes trial

A Ugandan court on Monday began its first war crimes trial of a commander of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], a Ugandan rebel group. The International Crimes Division (ICD) [official website, JURIST news archive] of the High Court of Uganda [JURIST news archive] charged Thomas Kwoyelo [AFP report] on 53 counts of willful killing, hostage taking, destruction of property and causing injury that took place during Uganda's civil war [BBC backgrounder]. Kwoyelo, who was taken into custody [HRW backgrounder] in March 2009, joined the LRA in 1987 and allegedly participated in war crimes from 1992 through 2005 during his tenure as "colonel" of the rebel group. Kwoyelo denies committing the crimes.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] in May 2008, said it was investigating possible new war crimes [JURIST report] committed by the LRA in recent attacks on Ugandan villages. In March 2008, the ICC said that arrest warrants issued by the ICC for LRA leaders [JURIST report] remain in effect, despite requests from Uganda that they be withdrawn. The four ICC-issued warrants were executed in 2005 and include LRA leader Joseph Kony and LRA senior member Vincent Otti [BBC profiles]. In 2007, Otti was executed by rebels [BBC report], though official confirmation of his death was delayed until January amid fears that it would disrupt peace talks. Kony, who remains in hiding, is wanted for orchestrating the killing of thousands of civilians and the enslavement of thousands more children over two decades of conflict. The government has said that Kony is willing to face trial at home [JURIST report], but not at the ICC. Uganda established the ICD [JURIST report] in February 2008 to try the suspected war crimes perpetrators. A fifth arrest warrant was initially issued for Raska Lukwiya but was later withdrawn after a July 2007 ICC pre-trial chamber decision.

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