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Poverty forcing Ugandans to fake rebel involvement

By Betty Amamukirori

Added 29th October 2019 11:43 AM

“Because of poverty, Ugandans are coming here and claim to be part of the rebels. Upon screening we find that actually these people are ordinary Ugandans,” he said.

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Cosmos Ochaka (left), a former clerk in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) of Joseph Kony looks on as Moses Draku, the principal public relation officer and Spokesperson of Amnesty Commission addresses the press at the Amnesty offices in Kampala on October 28, 2019. Photo by Ronnie Kijjambu

“Because of poverty, Ugandans are coming here and claim to be part of the rebels. Upon screening we find that actually these people are ordinary Ugandans,” he said.

KAMPALA - Ugandans have started faking defection from rebel groups in order to get amnesty, New Vision has learnt.

On Monday while addressing journalists at the Amnesty Commission head offices in Nakasero, Moses Draku, the commission’s spokesperson, revealed that they have received increasing number of Ugandans who are seeking amnesty under the guise of defecting from a rebel group.

“Because of poverty, Ugandans are coming here and claim to be part of the rebels. Upon screening we find that actually these people are ordinary Ugandans,” he said.

He noted that if it wasn’t for their rigorous screening process, many Ugandans would have fraudulently received the perks that come with getting amnesty.

Draku was speaking at an event organised to unveil the LRA defectors; Cosmas Ocakacon and Jean Claude Democracie, a Congolese.

Ocakacon, 43, was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in 1996 while a senior two student at Pakwach Secondary School.

He was abducted together with four others at Corner Muoya trading centre while traveling from Gulu to Pakwach to pay his school fees.

He was taken through military training but never engaged in any gunfight because Joseph Kony employed him as a clerk. By the time of defection, he was at the rank of a captain.

Democracie, 23, was abducted in 2008 at Duru Institute where he was in senior one. He was abducted with 70 other people but 40 were later released. Kony made him a babysitter and at the time of defection, he was still babysitting Kony’s children.

Draku explained that once a person is granted amnesty, they are given sh263, 000, three hoes, a blanket, a basin, plates, saucepans, cups, and other household items to start off life.

The beneficiaries also get support to pursue vocational training of their choice so as to be able to find their families.

“We find out that these people are lying through the assessment forms where they are required to answer questions concerning their rebel leaders, their areas of operation, the ranks and others, which most of them always fail to answer,” Draku said.

In Uganda there are only two remaining known rebel groups; Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and Jamil Mukulu’s Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).

Kony, who is living in a bush in Darfur, Sudan is on the wanted list of the International Criminal Court (ICC) while Mukulu is currently under trial at the International Crimes Division (ICD)of the High Court.

On July 8, 2005, the ICC issued a warrant of arrest against Kony and his four top commanders; Vincent Otti, Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen but, later dropped the warrant against Lukwiya and Odhiambo upon confirmation of their deaths.

Ongwen surrendered and was handed over to the court. The trial is ongoing. While it’s believed that Otti died, the ICC has maintained the arrest warrant because no proof of his death has been provided.

Amnesty International, since its inception, has received 27,494 defectors from 31 rebel groups. The majority are from LRA (13,324), West Nile Bank Front (6,500), Uganda National Rescue Front II (UNRF II) (3,252) and ADF (2,336).

Draku said they have been able to reintegrate and support over 15,000 defectors and given resettlement packages to about 27, 000.

He explained that whoever defects is screened to confirm if indeed they are rebels.

“When we are satisfied that the person was a rebel, the judge, who is the chairperson of the commission, then grants amnesty. He pardons them and gives them the amnesty certificate,” he said.

He stated that the certificate insulates the benefactor from prosecution for the crimes committed while under the rebel group.

Draku said that on top of equipping the defectors, they also sensitize communities in order to create a receptive and safe environment for the defectors.

“We have six regional offices. These offices go and sensitize the communities and prepare them to welcome the defectors. The majority of the communities we go to are actually very welcoming to these people,” he stated.

He noted that rejections only happen where women, abducted by the rebels, return with children.

“The parents will say, we welcome you back but we don’t want those children,” he said.

However, he noted that they do not have the capacity to follow up after resettling these people but hinged it on inadequate staff.

Amnesty commission was established to facilitate the implementation of the Amnesty Act of 2000.

Under the Act, any forces that are fighting the government and wish to give-up are free to report and will be forgiven when they denounce their activities.

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