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Ugandan Rebel Leader Narrowly Escapes Capture - 2004-07-29

Uganda's most wanted rebel leader narrowly escaped capture during an army raid on his stronghold in southern Sudan, according to a spokesman for the Ugandan military.

A Ugandan army spokesman said troops raided the camp of the Lord's Resistance Army near the Sudanese village of Biriniang late Wednesday, capturing 28 people, including four wives and possibly several children of the elusive LRA leader, Joseph Kony. Speaking on the phone from Kampala, spokesman Shaban Bantariza said Kony's walkie-talkie handset and a radio transmitter were also recovered in the raid.

"He had built a very, very powerful camp, which was his headquarters," he said. "We attacked it yesterday. By the beginning of dusk we had counted 120 dead, 36 rifles captured, and Kony's own equipment [which] he was using to command that battle."

Sudanese authorities agreed to cooperate with Ugandan forces to capture Mr. Kony, whose LRA rebels have killed tens of thousands of people, often mutilating their bodies, and displaced more than 1.6 million people in northern Uganda. The rebels also have kidnapped thousands of children, forcing many of them to become soldiers or sex slaves.

In the past, LRA rebels launched attacks on villages in northern Uganda then retreated behind Sudanese lines to evade Ugandan soldiers, who, until recently, were limited by the Khartoum government from crossing too far past the border.

Mr. Bantariza lauded Sudanese authorities for promptly responding to Uganda's request for permission to cross the so-called red line to attack Mr. Kony's Sudan headquarters. The "red line" is part of a 2002 accord that set a limit on how far Ugandan troops could track the rebels in Sudan.

"Yesterday was the first-ever expressed permission to cross the red line," he said. "Because, you know, the argument was, 'Now Kony is across the red line. You either catch him or kill him or allow us to cross.' Now they have opted to allow us to cross and we have done our job."

Responding to mounting criticism over the government's inability to defeat the LRA, widely perceived as a ragtag army of a few hundred guerilla fighters and child soldiers, Uganda's defense forces have stepped up their efforts to kill or capture Joseph Kony. And with Sudan's new willingness to help them, it's likely that the LRA is feeling the pinch like never before.

For many Ugandans, news of the raid on Kony's camp in Sudan is the first real sign that the campaign against the 18 year scourge of the LRA is making headway.