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Northerners Weigh Up Odhiambo Killing

Some worry alleged execution may damage peace deal, but most believe it will eventually be signed.
By Joe Wacha
At her roadside stall near the Palenga internal refugee camp, just a few kilometres south of Gulu, Phoebe Amuge was deep in conversation with her friends about the proposed peace deal between Uganda and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, in Juba, South Sudan.

Amuge admitted this was not the usual topic of discussion among her friends, but today their attention was on the news that the long-awaited signing of an agreement to end the conflict in the north was delayed again.

This time it was because rebel leader Joseph Kony reportedly executed another deputy commander – the recently appointed Okot Odhiambo.

News of Odhiambo’s alleged killing comes just months after Kony apparently executed his previous deputy, Vincent Otti, by firing squad in October, for insubordination.

Reasons for the latest reported execution remain unclear. But Odhiambo was reputedly the most ruthless of the LRA commanders, and there are suggestions that he was killed because he was opposed to signing a peace deal.

“This kind of development is indeed worrying,” said Amuge, “especially after seeing the process [move] really fast [during] the last few months of the negotiations.”

Florence Aguti, Amuge’s neighbour at a nearby stall, said she was dismayed when she heard that the peace deal signing was delayed again and that another rebel commander had allegedly been killed.

The women and their customers said they were now concerned that the reported killing would place yet more uncertainty over the talks.

“This man (Kony) forgets that he is also a beneficiary of our goodwill,” said a customer who asked not to be identified.

“How about if we also chose not to forgive him and treat him the way he is handling his commanders?”

Odhiambo was one of five LRA commanders indicted by the International Criminal Court, ICC, in July 2005 on a series of charges, including sexual enslavement, rape, murder and attacks against civilian population.

The ICC indictees were Kony, Otti , Odhiambo, Dominic Ongwen and Raska Lukwiya, who was killed in a clash with the Ugandan army.

Chris Owen Okoya, the local council representative of Palaro sub-county, which is Odhiambo’s birthplace, said he was upset by reports of the late commander’s death.

If Odhiambo’s death was true, Okoya said Kony may not be serious about peace.

While this latest LRA drama has dampened expectations about the peace deal, most people in the north believe it will eventually be signed.

Amuge was quick to note that at this point in the peace process, there is no turning back. She remained optimistic that Uganda has seen the last of the LRA rebellion.

Bishop Nelson Onono Onweng, of the Anglican Diocese of Northern Uganda, said Odhiambo’s reported death indicated that the LRA’s war was over.

Onweng said there soon would be no one left for Kony to work with, and, as a result, he would have to sign the peace pact.

“If you begin to kill everybody who is close with you, who will you work with?” he asked.

“It’s over. It is over, my brother. The.. LRA has come to an end. It’s finished.”

Onweng said Kony has wasted many opportunities and has few options left, “What will he be doing and who will be with him? I know he will sign the agreement, he has no other choice.”

Bosco Odongo, operator of a boda-boda motorcycle taxi in Lacor on the outskirts of Gulu, lamented Kony’s lack of reasoning and said he wished he could invite the LRA to return home.

“All this time, what has he been doing?” Odongo asked of Kony. “I wish the United Nations could [find a way] of reaching out the people in the bush and convince them to return home. That way the war and our worries would be no more,” he said.

“With the rainy season coming in full swing, our people want to settle to crop production and cease living as beggars.”

Joe Wacha is an IWPR-trained journalist who works in Gulu and Lira.

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