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Kony Suspected of Hatching Escape Plan

Rebel leader may be headed for Darfur, putting peace deal in jeopardy.
Dramatic progress in peace talks between the Ugandan government and the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, has been overshadowed by reports that rebel leader, Joseph Kony, may be trying to escape to Darfur.

Although the negotiations have continued for more than 18 months in Juba, South Sudan, and portions of the peace deal were signed almost a year ago, a final agreement could be inked within days as the negotiators rush to conclude the talks by week’s end.

This may be because Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni and his Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC, counterpart, Joseph Kabila, signed an agreement in Tanzania last year that commits the Kinshasa government to push the rebels from their hideout in DRC’s Garamba Park.

Uganda recently made it clear to the rebels that it would demand that Kinshasa executes its part of the plan should the LRA rebels continue to stall the talks.

The most critical deal signed so far was the February 23 permanent ceasefire, and it came just days after the two sides agreed that Uganda would put the top LRA commanders on trial before a special division of the Ugandan High Court. Lesser crimes would be tried under a traditional justice system known as mato-oput.

The critical agreements were signed despite the fact that the LRA’s new chief negotiator, David Matsanga, walked out of the talks last week over Uganda’s refusal to accept the demand that 35 per cent of all army positions and government contracts go to people from Uganda’s marginalised northern and eastern regions.

Analysts see the agreement as a major coup for the LRA. It allows for local LRA trials and attempts to answer the concerns of the International Criminal Court, ICC.

Kony and his top commanders have been indicted by the ICC on war crimes and crimes against humanity, but have not been arrested. Kony alone faces 33 counts for such crimes.

Despite the agreements, it’s unclear whether the rebel leader will be prepared to appear before a Kampala court or even sign a final peace deal with Musevani.

Intelligence sources contacted by IWPR suggest that Kony may not do either.

About 200 LRA soldiers have reportedly left the DRC for the town of Obo in the southeastern corner of the Central African Republic, CAR, the Uganda army has confirmed.

“We received information that there was an attack on the border town of [Ezo] in the Central African Republic, which is suspected of having been by the LRA,” said Ugandan army spokesperson Paddy Ankunda.

Contacted by phone in Juba, however, Matsanga told IWPR that the reports of rebel movements “are total lies”.

Despite the denial, some suggest that the Ezo militants may be part of a splinter group loyal to the former LRA deputy commander Vincent Otti. If not, it could be an advance guard for a larger LRA withdrawal.

Ankunda’s comments reflect information viewed by IWPR and contained in a highly classified dossier that says about 180 LRA fighters entered the district of Obo in the southeastern part of the CAR on February 18.

The dossier indicated that the rebels were moving towards the northern CAR town of Birao, which borders Chad. This has fueled speculation that not only these fighters, but Kony himself might be preparing to flee to the war-ravaged Darfur region in Sudan.

“There is fear that Kony might have renewed his friendship with Sudan president Omar al-Bashir and might be granted a safe haven in Darfur,” said a highly-placed military source, who spoke to IWPR on the condition of anonymity. “He could join the notorious janjaweed to inflict violence against the locals.”

For much of the last ten years, Kony was supported by the Sudanese government with a safe haven, weapons and medical aid in its battle with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army over control of South Sudan.

The classified report apparently was compiled by the External Security Organisation in Uganda and the secretive Tripartite Fusion Cell, TFC, which reportedly has been assisted by foreign intelligence operatives.

The TFC is a jointly operated data-gathering and analysis group that tracks movements of militias in the region and verifies reports of their cross-border violations, IWPR has been told.

“We don’t know their intentions, but it is unfortunate that they are moving towards the CAR,” Ankunda said of the reputed LRA unit. “They should be moving towards Ri-kwangba in southern Sudan.” Ri-kwangba is the agreed place where the LRA is to disarm and demobilise for eventual return to Uganda.

Ankunda suggested that if the LRA was planning to flee, it may have trouble. “It is good that we have support of the Central African [Republic] president, who pledged that he will deal with the LRA in case they crossed into his country,” he said.

CAR president Francois Bozize visited Uganda last year and met Museveni. Details of their discussion, however, were not revealed.

This is not the first time that the LRA has entered CAR, however. Kony’s fighters reportedly went on a reconnaissance mission there last year, but returned to Garamba within weeks. Reasons for the trip were never explained, although some suggest it was to obtain weapons.

Military sources who spoke to IWPR on the condition of anonymity claim that Kony has grown increasingly paranoid and fears that if he stays in DRC much longer, he will be captured and killed.

“He knows that the intelligence [services] might track him by satellite and strike him, so he has to move,” said the source.

Charles Mwanguhya Mpagi is the political editor The Daily Monitor and Emma Mutaizibwa is a journalist with Nation TV. Both are IWPR contributors.