Ugandan rebels desert over ‘treason’ probe

A commander and several fighters from Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) have deserted the movement to escape a treason probe for allegedly collaborating with the government, a spokesperson said on Monday.

Captain Sunday Otto and fewer than 30 fighters fled in October from the LRA’s hideout along the Sudan-Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) border after they were put under investigation, said LRA spokesperson Godfrey Ayoo.

”While still in active service, with the support of Uganda’s Kampala regime, Captain Sunday Otto and others worked with external hostile forces to destabilise and cause the disintegration of the LRA,” Ayoo said. ”They deserted the movement to escape treason investigations and were subsequently dismissed … but I have to say that movement is still strong enough.”

Officials said the dissidents are still in the vast Garamba National Park planning to surrender to the United Nations mission in the DRC (Monuc).

Last month, Monuc announced that LRA chief of military operations Patrick Opiyo Makasi and his wife had surrendered and were subsequently repatriated to Uganda, a key setback to the insurgents.

In recent years, Uganda has granted total amnesty to surrendering rebels.

Ayoo said that neither Makasi nor Otto had been a ”member of the military high command of LRA, nor privy to information from the military high command”.

The pair fled as a rebel team currently visiting war-affected regions of Uganda is collecting public views on issues of accountability and reconciliation in ongoing peace talks.

The LRA is still committed to the peace process despite the developments, Ayoo explained.

The Ugandan army welcomed the desertions and urged others to quit, saying the movement was weakening.

”If some rebels renounce violence and decide to return home, we welcome them home. This is what we have always been telling them,” army spokesperson Felix Kulaigje said.

”With these desertions the rebel strength has been reduced. Whether the peace talks succeed or not, the rebellion in the north has ended and peace has returned,” he added.

Talks between Kampala and LRA members in the southern Sudanese capital, Juba, are considered the best chance to end a nearly three-decade-old conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced 1,8-million.

A ceasefire signed in August last year has helped to restore stability in the war-torn areas, allowing some displaced civilians to return to their villages and farm.

Also on Monday, Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon visited northern Gulu township and opened a centre that would offer vocational training to 4 000 youth recovering from war.

McKinnon described the centre as ”triumph of hope over despair”. He is in the country to attend a November 23 to 25 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which will bring together dozens of world leaders.

”There are hundreds and hundreds of young people who have lost their future. Lives here have to be rebuilt to ensure that northern Uganda can be rebuilt,” said Ugandan Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Henry Oryem-Okello.

Rebel chief Joseph Kony took over a two-year-old rebellion in northern Uganda in 1988 and has been fighting to establish a government based on the biblical Ten Commandments.

In 2005, the Hague-based International Criminal Court indicted five LRA leaders, including Kony and his deputy Vincent Otti, on a raft of charges such as murder, rape and enslavement of children.

But Kony has vowed never to sign the peace agreement until the charges are withdrawn.

Mediators are yet to fix a new date for the resumption of the peace talks that opened in July last year. — Sapa-AFP

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