A senior northern Ugandan official says the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army rebel group has detained his own deputy, Vincent Otti. Derek Kilner reports from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi that a rebel spokesman has denied claims that Otti is dead.

The Chairman of Gulu District in northern Uganda, Norbert Mau, says Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony has detained his deputy, Vincent Otti, on suspicion of being a spy.  Mau says that he has spoken with Kony by phone.

Otti speaks frequently to the media and others involved in the Ugandan peace process, but he has not been heard from in the past month. Speculation has risen in recent days that Otti was killed.  

Rebel spokesman Godfrey Ayoo told reporters in Nairobi on Friday that Otti remains on good terms with the rebels, known as the LRA.  He denied claims that Otti is dead.

"Lieutenant General Vincent Otti is alive, is in Ri-Kwangba, and is still a member of the Lords Resistance Movement and the Lords Resistance Movement military high command," he said.  "For that matter, I am requesting that we put this issue to rest. The focus and attention that has been given to the matter has very much had a detrimental effect on our consultation exercises in Uganda. Everywhere we have been going, people have been asking about the fate of Vincent Otti."

Ayoo also suggested that Otti has not been heard from, because he has been suffering from cholera.

The director of the Nairobi office of the Institute for Security Studies, Peter Edopu, says it is likely that Otti has been detained.

"The most likely scenario is he is still alive but is under arrest. I think there has been some communication between the government of Southern Sudan and then the Ugandan government as well on that issue," he added.  "It seems they have put it to Kony not to harm the gentleman, so most likely I think he is not going to be killed."

An LRA delegation has been meeting this week with victims of the 20-year conflict in northern Uganda before beginning the next phase of peace negotiations in southern Sudan. The group's leaders have been staying in a northeastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Kony and three of his deputies, including Otti, are wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes including widespread amputations and forced recruitment of child soldiers. The delegation currently visiting Uganda has been advocating for the charges to be dropped.

Ugandan media reported on Friday that the International Criminal Court is investigating Otti's fate. The government of Southern Sudan, which is hosting peace negotiations between the Ugandan government and the LRA, has also appointed a delegation to visit the Democratic Republic of Congo and find out about Otti.