Brig Gen Fred Semawenge, who, vehemently denied that government soldiers committed several atrocities against the people of Teso sub-region between 1986 and 1992 has now regretted his earlier spirited defence.
The decorated soldier was responding to questions from the lawyer representing Teso war debt claimants, Richard Omongole during a cross-examination session.
Semawenge had indicated in the defendant’s witness statement filed on May 12 that the army he serves was not responsible for the atrocities committed in Teso sub-region as alleged in the case of John Oluka and others.
He stated that instead, the NRA army/UPDF protected and defended the lives and property of the people of the Teso sub- region.
“I know that the NRA/UPDF was deployed in the Teso sub-region with the view of protecting the lives and property of the people of Teso sub-region...we never looted, stole, used and or vandalized property of the people of the Teso sub-region as alleged by the claimants in this case,” Semawenge’s statement partly reads.
He added that if any property was destroyed, it was by the LRA, UPA and other negative forces not part of the NRA/UPDF.
“The UPDF at all times during the insurgencies, in exercise of its mandate, deployed to fight the insurgents restored peace, it protected and defended the lives and property of the people of Teso sub-region,” he added.
But as Omongole took to the podium to cross-examine the soldier, who is also a graduate in theology, Semawenge said that he was only in Teso sub-region between 2001-2004, commanding a battalion in Olilim whereby most of the atrocities reported between 1986-1992 were only told to him.
“My lord, I received instructions from my superior, Maj Gen Stephen Kavuma to come and testify in court. I never participated in any insurgency between 1986-1992 in Teso," he said during cross-examination. "I joined the guerrilla war in 1982 from my senior one and became lieutenant in 1987. During the time, my operations were based in Lango and Acholi sub-regions.” he said.
As the 58-year-old soldier tried to defend the government from the atrocities committed in Teso including the massacre of 67 people in Mukura, Omongole tendered a document where the ministry of Defense and Veteran Affairs conducted verification of some of the claimants in Kasilo, Serere district.
The verification report conducted in November 1999, shows that the army was responsible for looting at least 150 heads of cattle, 35 goats and sheep and other property belonging to Mzee Milton Kirya. The ministry then recommended compensation.
A humbled Semawenge said his earlier defense was based on the information he'd been told and now that there's new evidence before the court, he regrets the actions of his colleagues.
Semawenge is among the four army commanders and the undersecretary lined up for defense against the Teso war debt claimants in court. The hearing of the defense commenced on Thursday as the court draws closer to the conclusion of the case.
Teso went through difficult times between 1987 and 2003, when the government through the National Resistance Army (NRA)/ Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) waged wars against different rebel groups comprising the Uganda People’s Army (UPA), Karimojong invasion, Lakwena and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). During the period, people lost lives and property said to be worth trillions of shillings.
This forced thousands of people to petition the court for compensation. Although some cases like for Kaslio County MP, Elijah Okupa and others, were concluded and the government asked to compensate the claimants, others remained pending.
The government also entered a consent judgement with Geresom Eotu (now deceased) and others under civil suit no. 230 of 2010. This was after some engagements with President Museveni who intervened in the matter and directed the ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs to negotiate an out-of-court settlement.
In the matter, the attorney general was asked to verify and pay the deserving claimants within four months. But the compensation dragged for over five years until 2022 when the government launched the general compensation program for Teso, Lango and Acholi sub-regions.
However, the compensation has been regarded as dismal, forcing the claimants to return to court. The attorney general, representing the government in court, lined up UPDF officers as witnesses. This was after the court concluded hearing the witnesses from the claimants. Justice Dr Henry Peter Adonyo is hearing the case.