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Ugandan Rebel Leader in Eastern Congo Seeks Amnesty


The second-in-command of an eastern-Africa rebel group is discussing a deal to surrender in exchange for amnesty. The rebels have been accused of killing more than 900 civilians in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since the launch of a regional military operation against them in December.

The number-two man in the Lords Resistance Army, Okot Odhiambo, was wounded at the start of a military operation launched last month by the Ugandan, Congolese and southern Sudanese militaries against the rebels in eastern Congo.

Now Odhiambo has said he is willing to turn himself in, according the Ugandan military sources and the International Organization for Migration, which says it is involved in the discussions. Odhiambo, the top deputy to LRA leader Joseph Kony is believed to be with 30 to 45 other fighters.

Ugandan state radio reported Wednesday that Odhiambo had been captured.

Analyst Levi Ochieng told VOA from Kampala that if Odhiambo is still at large, and succeeds in turning himself in, it could indicate that the LRA is weakening.

"If you want to surrender as the deputy chief of the LRA and you make this known in advance, Kony will get rid of you immediately," he said. "If Okot Odhiambo has made public his intention to surrender or even the fact that he is in communication with the International Organization for Migration, then if he survives for a few more days that explains that the LRA command is no longer intact and therefore Kony is no longer in control."

The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants in 2005 for Kony, Odhiambo and three other deputies, two of whom have since died. Odhiambo became Kony's number two after the death of Vincent Otti last year.

Many believe Odhiambo will ask for immunity from prosecution by the court in exchange for surrender. But Ochieng says such an option may not be possible.

"The government of Uganda is also under obligation to hand him over to the ICC," he said. "I do not think that he would undergo trial in the local court as some suggestions seem to say. I think the ICC would demand that he is handed over and international pressure would be so intense on the Ugandan government that it would hand him over to the ICC."

According to Ugandan media, more than 20 fighters commanded by Odhiambo have surrendered.

Uganda initiated the current military operation after Kony failed on multiple occasions to turn up to sign a peace agreement, the culmination of negotiations that began in August 2006.

Uganda says there are between 800 and 1,000 members of the group at large. According to the United Nations, about 40 rebels have been killed in the operation.

But many more civilians have been killed in retaliatory attacks, the United Nations said Wednesday more than 900 civilians have been killed since the start of the operation. That record has drawn criticism from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and from humanitarian groups who say the operation may be causing more harm than good.

The LRA launched its rebellion in northern Uganda in 1986. In 2005, the group shifted its base to eastern Congo, and most of its attacks have been carried out in that country, as well as in southern Sudan and the Central African Republic.

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