Authorities continue 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.
"It 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.
Last 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.