Lt. Col. Charles Otema Awany, 39, is the Intelligence Officer in charge of Northern Region. Caroline Lamwaka interviewed him recently on the arrests he carried out since he took up charge as co-ordinator of all government intelligence networks in the North in August last year. To date, ther
Answer: I am in charge of the entire North, but with emphasis on Gulu, Kitgum, Pader, Lira, Apac and Adjumani. I co-ordinate the entire intelligence network in northern region. One of the things I am supposed to do is to look for the whereabouts of the rebels, illegal possession of arms, subversive activities like plotting to overthrow the government and people who sabotage government programmes.
Is this part of Operation Iron Fist?
This is part of Operation Iron Fist because rebel collaborators aid the rebellion by giving the rebels support and supplies or recce, disclosing where the army is deployed. In most cases, they give information to the rebels so that they can attack the suburbs of the town. They are the ones who are free within the population. They know whether the soldiers are there or not.
Is their role that significant?
By leading the rebels, the rebels succeed either in carrying out the abductions, looting property or where the government soldiers are few, they may overrun them. And also they share the loot and encourage rebels to continue being in the bush because rebels look at it as a business. Through the collaborators, they send their money to their families.
What mechanisms did you use to get the lists of suspects?
In most cases, we get the information from the rebels themselves when we capture the rebels. When you capture a rebel, the rebel knows that the only way to save himself is to co-operate with the government forces, to tell us who support them. Some of these rebels do not come from areas where the collaborators could have been arrested. Some come from Kitgum. That one rules out suspicion that someone may have been falsely accused.
Why did you start the arrests?
When we capture the rebels, they tell me that those are the people who give them support. So, to reduce the activities of the rebels in that area, one has to arrest the collaborators.
What means did you use in arresting the suspects?
We used Police CID since this is a civil matter. The army only provides the security since the police do not have enough manpower and because these are areas where the rebels are. The arrests are carried out by the police. The CID is also part of the intelligence, and Special Branch.
How are they treated? Some people complained of torture and the kandoya style of tying people, yet they were later found innocent and released.
I have no idea. They were not beaten. That is all I know. Two days ago, we took some of them to court. Taking them to court depends on circumstances. Some of these collaborators we capture in the crossfire when we are fighting the rebels. They are identified by the rebels themselves.
How many are they in Kigo prison now?
They are 20. They are in prison for treason. Some of them were arrested during my time. Some I found already arrested.
How did Oloya Peter Yumbe die in prison?
That is the story I want the Acholi people to know very clearly.
Peter Oloya was arrested together with Olanya, a former LC of Kirombe area. It was alleged that they were the ones who killed a Movement Chairman of Pabo. They were arrested for murder and imprisoned around April 2002. When I came here, I found they were already in prison. But from my intelligence network, I found he wanted to escape from prison with Olanya and others arrested for treason. They intended to carry out killing of those they suspected had reported them to government. A reliable source said they wanted to go to the bush.
When the rebels were planning to go to the prison and release those who were arrested for treason, we even arrested someone they had sent for recce. We thought it was wise that instead of having a fight in the prison with the rebels, where very many people would have died, we should transfer them (prisoners) to our cell in the barracks to avoid causing deaths, which could have occurred to the other people. This was in September (2002).
When I carried out the recce during the day, I realised that there would be danger if the rebels attempted to attack that place, very many people, including the prisoners and the family of the prison warders who live next to the prison cells, would have died. I went, asked for the treason suspects and those two on murder cases so that I could transfer them that night. Yumbe, a former soldier in the UNLA, thought he could grab a gun from a soldier. In the process, a soldier had to shoot him in self-defence to save all our lives.
Why didnâ€™t you transfer them during the day?
This is a war zone. It is historical that the rebels always attack the town suburbs at night. We feared there would be an attack that very night. If I had intentions of killing them, I would have killed all of them, (prisoners) or may be more than one because the person with whom they were charged for murder, has finished his remand period and is now out on bail.
That shows that the government had no intention of killing those people or even Yumbe himself. And the prisoners can be my witnesses. I knew that they would be afraid to be transfered in the night. So I announced it to reassure them that there was nothing wrong. I was only transferring them to a safer place.
But the late (Yumbe) stubbornly did not listen to my advice, given his background. He was a militia in the UNLA days operating in Yumbe, killing people indiscriminately. The Acholi look at it as if it I who killed this man. But the Acholi should know that this man never had a clean record. That was the kind of mentality, which could have driven him to grab a gun and kill.
Are you satisfied with what you have done?
To a certain degree, yes, but not fully because we still have rebel activities mainly in the areas of Pader and in Gulu in the areas of Lalogi and Lokwii parish.
What tangible achievements do you see on ground that you can tell the people?
A section of the population, who believed that the rebels would overrun the government, and the rebels who were saying that by December (2002) they would overrun the government, have seen that it is now impossible and are now responsive. Even some of the opportunist politicians wanted to use the war for their political ambitions.
Donâ€™t the arrests undermine the peace process?
There is no ceasefire yet. When there is a call for cease-fire, then the arrests will stop.
What is your message to the people of Acholi?
I request that they continue to desist from supporting the LRA because they know very well that these people are abducting their young children, killing them and using civilians without guns as their shields. So they should not lie to them that they are friendly people. These are wolves.
What do you think about some of the opinions of some Acholi in the diaspora, in newsletters and in Acholinet, that you are the killer of the Acholis?
They donâ€™t know what takes place here on the ground. They are in Europe. They donâ€™t know that the base of Acholi is here, which is being massacred by Kony. I saw kids who had been abducted by the LRA. Those who cannot walk are usually killed using axes.
Grown ups are given heavy loads to carry and if they fail they are killed. So I donâ€™t now who is the real killer of the Acholi, if not Kony and his supporters, some of whom are in the diaspora. Ends
Rebel Collaborators Are Govtâ€™s Link To The Rebels