ICC drops plan to try LRA Kony's deputy in Uganda

A Ugandan daily dated January 7, 2015 carries a picture of former LRA second-in-command Dominic Ongwen (AFP Photo/Isaac Kasamani) (AFP/File)

The Hague (AFP) - The International Criminal Court on Wednesday axed plans to hold a hearing in Uganda to confirm charges against a notorious Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) commander, fearing political tensions ahead of upcoming elections.

Dominic Ongwen is the first commander of the brutal LRA rebel group -- led by the fugitive Joseph Kony -- to appear before the ICC, where he faces charges for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Prosecutors accuse Ongwen and his troops of at least 67 crimes against civilians fleeing the LRA's decades-long reign of terror.

The ICC had initially declared it "desirable" that the hearing should take place in Uganda, near to the scene of his alleged crimes.

But after talks with Ugandan authorities, the court decided that political tensions surrounding February's presidential elections "may have an adverse impact on the court."

"Today the presidency of the ICC decided that the confirmation of charges hearing in the case against Dominic Ongwen, scheduled for January 21, will take place in The Hague," the ICC said in a statement.

Although there were advantages in having the hearing in Uganda, including improving the ICC's image and bringing proceedings closer to affected communities, the "potential benefits... are outweighed by the significant risks," the ICC's presidency said.

It "noted particularly the possibility, expressed by Uganda itself, that political tensions may increase during an upcoming electoral period, especially during January 2016."

The court was also hamstrung by its planned move to a new building in The Hague in December, the court added.

The charges against Ongwen all relate to attacks carried out on refugee camps housing those forced to flee their homes in the bloody rebellion that started in the country's north in 1987.

More than 100 people, many of them babies and children, died in the attacks on four camps between October 2003 and June 2004.

Known as the "White Ant", Ongwen was one of the top commanders of the LRA, accused of killing more than 100,000 people and abducting 60,000 children.

The former child-soldier-turned-warlord was wanted by the ICC for almost a decade before he surrendered to US special forces in the Central African Republic in January after Washington offered a $5-million (4.4-million-euro) reward for his capture..

US troops have also been leading a military hunt in the Central African Republic to try to bring Kony to justice.

Born in 1975, Ongwen appeared for the first time before ICC judges shortly after he was transferred to The Hague in late January.