to await the surrender of a top deputy to Lord's Resistance Army rebel
commander Joseph Kony. On January 29,
LRA second-in-command Okot Odhiambo sent word through a Geneva-based aid
agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), of his willingness
to surrender to Ugandan forces if the IOM agrees to witness his handover. Senior policy analyst Paul Ronan of the
American advocacy group Resolve Uganda says that although press reports continue to
speculate about when and where the surrender will take place, the deal may have
opened up when Odhiambo was reportedly wounded during a three-nation raid
through the Democratic Republic of Congo.
seems clear that the military pressure from the joint offensive has been the
immediate reason for his recent overtures to leave the LRA, although there are
some reports that he's been unhappy with Kony's decision not to sign the final
peace agreement and to continue the fighting.
It was not until he was reportedly injured during the offensive that he
decided that he wanted to defect," he noted.
Like Kony, Odhiambo faces charges from the
International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes committed during the civil war in
northern Uganda. Although the IOM
declines knowing the deputy rebel leader's whereabouts, the agency, which
specializes in supervising reintegration of former combatants, says it has
agreed to monitor the surrender. Resolve
Uganda's Paul Ronan notes that some
people are suggesting that Odhiambo's offer to come out of the bush may simply
be a trial balloon, similar to Kony's repeated unfulfilled offers to sign a
final peace agreement with the Ugandan government.
"There are some suspicions, none of which
have been confirmed as far as I know, that Mr. Odhiambo's statement that he is
defecting and willing to surrender is actually part of a ruse just to release
some of the pressure that this military offensive has been putting on him and to
buy some time," he said.
week, Uganda state radio reported that Odhiambo had been captured in the
eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, but the story was never confirmed. Reports
of Odhiambo's wounding surfaced in December, when Ugandan, Congolese and
southern Sudanese troops attacked LRA positions in the DRC's Orientale province. In the face of the attacks, LRA fighters went
on a rampage through eastern Congo, killing between 600 and 1000 civilians and
abducting and arming children to fight for the LRA. If the deputy commander
lays down his arms, an estimated 85 abductees and LRA soldiers with him are
expected to be turned over for rehabilitation and reintegration into their home
countries. Ronan says it's possible that Odhiambo may be treating the abductees
an incentive for him to win better treatment his captors.
"It's very possible he's using them as
bargaining chips. Again, with how fluid
the situation has been, and how tight-lipped IOM and other authorities that
have been working on this have been as far as the terms of the negotiations,
it's really not clear. But given how
centralized the LRA's command structure is, I would not be surprised if you
were able to deliver a substantial number of abductees and even fighters if he
did indeed end up defecting," noted Ronan.