Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Otti Rumours Overshadow LRA Return

Speculation over demise of rebel commander comes as LRA begin talks with their victims.
By Samuel Okiror
The fate of the second-in-command of the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, Vincent Otti, is overshadowing the start of reconciliation talks between LRA representatives and war victims in northern Uganda.

Over the last few days, there has been feverish speculation about Otti, with some suggesting that he was executed by rebel leader Joseph Kony, after a long-running feud.

The flurry of rumours come as LRA delegates this week begin six weeks of discussions with victims of the two-decades-long conflict on the accountability and reconciliation plank of the truce agreement between the rebels and the Ugandan government.

The LRA representatives began their consultation tour of the north on November 6, but much public attention focused on whether Otti was dead. At a radio talk show with Mega FM in Gulu, and later at the St Monika tailoring school in the region, LRA delegation leader Martin Ojul insisted that Otti was alive, but not well.

Ojul discounted as “propaganda” comments of Otti’s death at the hands of Kony late last month after a growing chasm between the two erupted into a confrontation.

The most recent claim of Otti’s death came from Gulu Resident District Commissioner Walter Ochora, who told IWPR, “Otti was arrested on October 1st and killed a few days later by his boss Joseph Kony.”

“If it’s not true, I challenge the LRA to come out clearly and tell the world about the fate of their deputy commander, Otti.

“Our intelligence information confirms that Otti is dead. He was executed on orders of Kony.”

Ojul, however, insisted that Otti was alive and recovering from cholera.

“This rumour circulating that Otti is dead is propaganda,” said Ojul, speaking at the St Monika tailoring school.

“Vincent is alive and lives together with his boss, Kony. Leaders of Southern Sudan and some members of parliament in Uganda are in touch with him (Otti).”

However, Ojul did not name the MPs.

“I was in the bush 10 days ago,” said Ojul. “I did not see any rift between LRA leadership as is being reported. Otti has been down with cholera. But he is getting better.”

Otti, Kony and two other commanders have been indicted by the International Criminal Court, ICC, for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the war in the north.

The conflict has displaced 1.7 million people and an estimated 100,000 others have been killed or died as a result of the fighting. More than 80,000 people were abducted, about 38,000 of them children.

Despite the persistent questions surrounding Otti, Ojul led the LRA delegation to various locations in Gulu, including to the Acholi Paramount Chief, Rwot David Achana, and wept at the encounter.

Ojul addressed the entourage as tears filled his eyes.

He said the delegates were visiting Achana as prodigal sons and daughters, and begged to be forgiven for the atrocities committed by the rebels in the insurgency.

“As Martin Ojul, I apologise for all the mistakes and the suffering inflicted on the people of northern Uganda by the LRA. I beg for forgiveness and we request that you (people) should forgive us,” he said.

“We are bringing a message of peace to the people of northern Uganda from the LRA leadership. We want your views to help resolve this problem once and for all.

“We appeal to you Acholi leaders not to abandon us, but to stand by us during these most crucial moments of the negotiations.”

The meeting at the Rwot’s palace provided an opportunity for the local leaders to perform a local reconciliation ceremony designed to cleanse the LRA delegation members of their guilt.

Ojul and his team, which included lawyer Chrispus Ayena, advisor Dr James Obita, and LRA commanders, Michael Anywar, Denis Okiror and Ray Acama, participated in a traditional Mato Oput ritual.

Each delegate was required to step on an egg and tree branch as they entered the palace, confessing that they had been in the wilderness and committed sins that needed to be cleansed before they could be welcomed home.

Only LRA delegate Santa Okot declined to take part in the ceremony, saying she was Christian and could not participate in a pagan ritual, despite pleas from Achana for her join.

“I am a born again Christian. I can’t subject myself to the traditional ritual,” she said.

Ojul explained that the delegation was in the north to get public views on accountability and reconciliation issues and to set the stage for a possible return to the north by Kony and his commanders.

“I have come not to exonerate the LRA,” said Ojul. “The wrongs we are addressing include both the LRA and [Ugandan army]. I am sorry for whatever has happened. We have come to seek solutions but not revenge. I offer apology for their (LRA) role in the conflict.”

“We are here to get your views on the issue of the ICC, especially on the indicted LRA commanders. We feel this (war) is a problem concerning the people of Uganda and we should handle it within the Uganda context.

“We should find a way to substitute the ICC issue. The withdrawal of ICC indictments will principally present the best opportunity for peace and signing the agreement.”

Obita added that “we are here to seek apology. We know that LRA has done a lot of destruction and caused untold suffering to innocent civilians. We shall keep making [apologies] as we find ways of ensuring life returns to normal”.

President Yoweri Museveni’s special advisor for northern Uganda Richard Toodwong said locals were keen to finally confront the LRA.

“People have anxiously been waiting for you. We want you to tell the people the truth. You should meet with real war victims,” said Toodwong.

The LRA delegation is scheduled to meet displaced people in camps in Gulu, Pader, Kitgum and Amuru in the coming six weeks.

Samuel Okiror Egadu is an IWPR journalist in Uganda.