The spokesman for Uganda’s People’s Defense Force (UPDF), says 19 fighters from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) have surrendered following intense international pressure on the rebel group.
Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda said the rebels are in the custody of the Ugandan army in the Central African Republic (CAR) where they defected from the LRA.
“They came with nine rifles and these include nine children. Currently, we are with them at our detaching center in the [CAR], and we are providing them with psychosocial rehabilitation and medical assistance as we prepare to work together with other agencies to repatriate them back to Uganda,” said Ankunda. “We would be working together with all those who are willing to help us in the effort of rescuing the children.”
Uganda has 2,500 soldiers supported by some “few” troops from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as part of an effort to end the LRA rebellion, according to Ankunda.
In October 2011, President Barack Obama ordered the deployment of about 100 US soldiers to Uganda to help regional forces hunt down the leaders of the LRA.
The UPDF is cooperating with the regional task force of the African Union-led Regional Cooperation Initiative for the Elimination of the Lord’s Resistance Army (RCI-LRA).
The rebels are accused of widespread murder, rape, and pillage in several countries including Uganda and the Central African Republic.
Ankunda said the defection is a boost to international efforts to end the violence. He hailed US support in the quest to end the insurgency.
“[It’s] very significant, particularly that the United States has been supporting our efforts to rescue children who are being held in captivity in the hands of the LRA, and those who are still vulnerable to attacks by the LRA,” said Ankunda.
The group of 19 LRA fighters becomes the first to surrender to the UPDF since 2008, according to Ankunda.
“This is the first group as big as this. [It] is very critical. It tells you about the strength of the LRA, and it tells you that they are running out of steam,” said Ankunda. “Obviously, we [will] be putting much pressure [by] working with the United Nations to ensure that the LRA [is defeated].”
Recently, officials of the CAR said they held peace talks aimed at having the LRA surrender. But, representatives of the Ugandan government expressed skepticism. Previous negotiations between the LRA and the Uganda government failed to end rebel violence.
“What is important here is to continue to exert pressure on the Lord’s Resistance Army,” said Ankunda. “We encourage efforts by the Central African Republic to try and engage the LRA in peace talks. We’ve done that before and we know what it is, but we need to encourage whoever is willing to engage the LRA in peace, in dialogue. But we have to remember that these are killers.”
Ankunda said that the UPDDF is hopeful that more African countries will contribute troops to help in the fight to end the LRA rebellion.
“We hope that other African countries will join in this effort, and make sure that we strengthen the African Union Regional Task Force to make sure that we bring that part of Africa to stability,” said Ankunda.
Asked whether those who surrender will face prosecution for alleged atrocities committed during the rebellion, Ankunda said the plan is to ensure the rebels return safely to Uganda.
“We are planning that next week they should be back in Uganda, and we are working with other agencies [like] International Organization for Migration,” said Ankunda. “The plan is that they should come back home because they are all Ugandans, and so that should be worked out as soon as possible.”