Ugandan soldiers hunting Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels in neighbouring Congo grabbed Thomas Kwoleyo in 2009 and this week he appeared in the dock to deny 53 counts of wilful killing, hostage-taking, destruction of property and causing injury .
Hundreds of people attended the court session in the northern town of Gulu, once the epicentre of LRA violence. The case was adjourned until next month.
Most other LRA commanders who are no longer fighting in the bush surrendered to Uganda’s army and were granted amnesty but the 39-year old colonel Kwoleyo was denied amnesty after his capture and is the first commander to go on trial.
President Yoweri Museveni’s government which has been fighting the LRA rebels led by Joseph Kony for more than 20-years. During this time the LRA has developed a reputation for brutality and kidnapping.
Kony, a former altar-boy, is widely accused of ordering massacres, mass rape, the abduction of tens of thousands of children and the mutilation of civilians often by hacking off limbs, lips and noses.
He, and three other senior commanders, are wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The court issued arrest warrants in 2005 but none of the accused men have yet been apprehended, although it is believed that at least one of them – deputy commander Vincent Otti – was subsequently killed in an internal purge ordered by Kony.