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Ugandan Army Says 66 Rebels Killed in Southern Sudan - 2002-06-06

The Ugandan army said it has killed 66 rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army during clashes in southern Sudan. It says a top rebel commander is among the dead.

Ugandan army spokesman Major Shaban Bantariza said the LRA fighters fell into a Ugandan army ambush when they came down from the Imatong Hills, about 50 kilometers from Sudan's border with Uganda.

Major Bantariza has said there were six officers among the rebels killed, including communications chief Lieutenant Colonel Otim Okello Lumumba. "A group of rebels who had come from the mountain hideouts, coming down to the plains, either to look for food or some arms they may have hidden there before. We were able to track them up, and pursued them, until we caught up with them and had a clash. It was our armed squad, which fought with them, and we captured this chief signal officer, Lieutenant Colonel Otim, who was injured. But on our way to bring him to Gulu for treatment, unfortunately, he died mid-air," Major Bantariza said.

He said the lieutenant colonel's death will be a major blow to the rebel movement. "He's the one responsible for electronic communication between the groups that are differently placed among the rebels. This one, we knew him because he is very senior, he has been there for very long. That's why I'm telling you that he's the chief signaler for the rebellion. Now, their signal department is totally in disarray," Major Bantariza said.

The Ugandan military's claim is difficult to confirm, because the LRA has little contact with the outside world. For the last 15 years, the rebels have been fighting to overthrow the Ugandan government and replace it with one based on the biblical Ten Commandments.

Uganda has been unable to defeat the LRA because their bases are across the border in southern Sudan.

The army's hopes of wiping out the movement improved dramatically in March, when Sudan gave Uganda permission to enter its territory and attack the rebels.

Most of the LRA combatants are children, who have been abducted from northern Uganda.